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A doodle is an unfocused drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. They are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be abstract shapes.

Doodling can aid a person’s memory by expending just enough energy to keep one from daydreaming, which demands a lot of the brain’s processing power, as well as from not paying attention. Thus, it acts as a mediator between the spectrum of thinking too much or thinking too little and helps focus on the current situation.

Doodles are common in school notebooks, often in the margins, drawn by students daydreaming or losing interest during class. Doodles are also frequently produced during long telephone conversations. 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 and patterns, textures, banners with legends, and animations made by drawing a scene sequence in various pages of a book or notebook.

The word doodle first appeared in the early 17th century to mean a fool or simpleton. It derives from the German dudeln, to play (originally, to play the bagpipe or dudel). The meaning ‘fool, simpleton’ is intended in the song title ‘Yankee Doodle,’ originally sung by British colonial troops prior to the American Revolutionary War. This is also 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 movie ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,’ Mr. Deeds mentions that ‘doodle’ was a word made up to describe scribblings to help a person think. The word as used in this sense was invented by screenwriter Robert Riskin.

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