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  1. This blouse is a bit of a fiddle to do up.

  2. It's kind of complicated to do up this blouse.

I've just came across the meaning of "fiddle" as "something difficult to do" and I tried to rephrase the sentence in order to get kind of a synonym.

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That sense is strictly UK; (1) would be understood in the USA, but native wouldn't say it. In American English, metaphorical fiddle is likely to be a verb (Don't fiddle around with that; you could hurt yourself). – John Lawler Mar 27 '13 at 15:49
Fiddly (or a fiddle) doesn't really mean difficult. – TimLymington Mar 27 '13 at 18:09

4 Answers 4

Yes, you can say it and it won't be wrong:

3 British informal a small task that seems awkward and unnecessarily complex:
    inserting a tape is a bit of a fiddle


but generally fiddle is defined & accepted as:

  • to touch or move something with many small quick movements of your fingers because you are bored, nervous, or concentrating on something else
  • to produce false results or records, in order to get money or other benefits
  • to play a tune on the violin.
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The thing to remember with fiddle is that its original, literal meaning is violin, and that the various figurative senses of fiddle and fiddly all derive from the very fast precise finger movements that playing the fiddle calls for. Thus:

  • To fiddle with any object is to handle it rapidly in one's fingers.

  • A task that is fiddly isn't necessarily complicated (it can be very simple, like threading a needle) but calls for small exact movements.

The fingers of a good fiddler playing a fast piece move almost too fast to see what s/he is doing. This is why a clever scam or swindle is called a fiddle.

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This is great info, but I'm hesitant to vote up without any citations. Can you offer support for these claims? – Chris Sunami Oct 5 at 14:09

I agree. Fiddle is not complicated, but can require many steps with attention to detail and precision. Complicated implies levels of structure, and extensive decision making.

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I wouldn't say a woman's blouse is complicated to do up, you don't need to follow a manual before it is buttoned. On the other hand, making something small and intricate like Dorset buttons looks complicated and very fiddly work.

handmade dorset buttons

Certain buttons can be time consuming to close and might require nimble finger work.

I'd say the following Austrian tinies [the website misnamed them Austrian smalls] are fiddly because of their tiny size. If you had twenty or more similar buttons on a dress or jacket, they wouldn't be easy to close quickly.

tiny buttons called Austrian smalls

  1. This blouse is fiddly
  2. This blouse takes ages to button up
  3. Buttoning this blouse is time-consuming.

But, if you were talking about making something

  1. These dorset buttons are a bit of a fiddle to do.
  2. These dorset buttons are quite complicated to make
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