Doodle

A doodle is a drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be composed of random and abstract lines, generally without ever lifting the drawing device off of the paper, in which case it is usually called a “scribble”.

Doodling and scribbling are most often associated with young children and toddlers, because their lack of hand–eye coordination and lower mental development often make it very difficult for any young child to keep their coloring attempts within the line art of the subject. Despite this, it is not uncommon to see such behaviour with adults, in which case it generally is done jovially, out of boredom. Typical examples of doodling are found in school notebooks, often in the margins, drawn by students daydreaming or losing interest during class. Other common examples of doodling are produced during long telephone conversations if a pen and paper are available. Popular kinds of doodles include cartoon versions of teachers or companions in a school, famous TV or comic characters, invented fictional beings, landscapes, geometric shapes, patterns and textures.

The word doodle first appeared in the early 17th century to mean a fool or simpleton. It may derive from the German Dudeltopf or Dudeldop, meaning simpleton or noodle (literally “nightcap”). It is the origin of the early eighteenth century verb to doodle, meaning “to swindle or to make a fool of”. The modern meaning emerged in the 1930s either from this meaning or from the verb “to dawdle”, which since the seventeenth century has had the meaning of wasting time or being lazy. In the 1936 film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, in the final courtroom scene, the main character, addressing the judge, introduces the word ‘doodler’ – which the judge has not heard before – as “a name we made up back home to describe a person who makes foolish designs on paper when they’re thinking.” This is clearly not a word in common usage at that time, and the inference is that it is an invented word that no one outside the character’s fictional home town of Mandrake Falls would be expected to know. Perhaps the word ‘doodle’, used here in its modern sense of ‘an absent-minded design on paper’, was not entirely new and was not actually invented by the scriptwriter, Robert Riskin, but it seems likely that at the very least this film greatly assisted the word into common usage.