Are drifting toward something and idling toward something used in the same meaning , i.e to move slowly and gradually toward someone or something? for instance,

The match was idling toward the goaless draw

The match was drifting toward the goaless draw

Drifting toward death

Idling toward death

3 Answers 3


They are both valid phrasings, although I would not say either means exactly moving slowly and gradually - they imply a kind of aimlessness, wandering, or lack of focus. For example, you might say

Realizing that his train would not arrive for several hours and he had a lot of time to kill, David idled towards a cluster of newsstands.

But not

The tortoise idled intently towards the lettuce.

even though a tortoise is certainly moving slowly and gradually!

Here are some examples in live usage:

...the narrow rivers idling toward the horizon...

Most were idling toward the other corner where refreshments were being offered.

A cigarette was burning in an ashtray, grey smoke idling towards the ceiling.

  • the reason of "tortoise" example being inappropriate is because tortoise moving toward it intentionally, right? so shouldnt "idling toward the other corner where refreshments were being offered" be considered as the same way? they went over there purposely because there were refreshments being offered. Oct 19, 2016 at 20:18
  • @CavidHummatov - Yes, the intentional, focused nature of the tortoise is why I think idling is not a good choice. In the sentence about refreshments, I think idling is OK because it implies the people are not moving in a purposeful, intentional kind of way; they're moving generally in that direction, but as though they were doing it idly - slowly, but kind of randomly, maybe stopping and starting, maybe making some detours. But you picked up on a good distinction there!
    – stangdon
    Oct 19, 2016 at 20:35
  • thanks,stangdon, your explanatory answers made it fairly easy to grasp. Oct 19, 2016 at 21:10

"Idling toward" would generally refer to a motorised vehicle whose engine was idling, so is much more specific than "drifting toward".

  • If a vehicle is idling, it is not really moving. So no, drifting toward and idling are not the same thing. Though one might use it literarily.....
    – Lambie
    Oct 19, 2016 at 14:53
  • please take a look above , I've edited question to get it across. properly. Oct 19, 2016 at 15:49
  • It's used metaphorically all the time, without any reference to a motor vehicle.
    – stangdon
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:48

To me, "idling toward" is a failed metaphor, because "idling", used of a motor, is not moving, as Lambie says in a comment.

And indeed, GloWbE has not one single instance of "idling toward" in its 1.9 billion words from 20 countries. The NOW corpus, with 2.5 billion words, does have precisely one instance of it, which is literal: "Even the obligatory cluster of skinheads made no comment on these two nutters idling toward the station".

  • But it doesn't refer to a motor, it just means "moving in an idle way".
    – stangdon
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:58
  • Yes, in fact the example I quoted does mean that. But that's not the first meaning of "idling" that occurred to me when I read the original question, and nor was it, apparently, to Mike Scott.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 19, 2016 at 21:22

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