To occupy oneself with unimportant matters and neglect priorities during a crisis.
The source of this phrase is the story that Nero played the fiddle or violin while Rome burned, during the great fire in 64 CE.
There are two major flaws with the story. First, there was no such instrument as the fiddle, or violin, in first century Rome. There’s no definite date for the invention of the violin, but it certainly wasn’t until at least the 16th century. If Nero played anything during the Rome fire, it was probably the lyre.
Second, the story may be completely false. Nero died four years later, and we must remember that history is written by the victors. The historian Suetonius records that Nero was responsible for the fire and that he watched it from a tower while playing a musical instrument and singing about the destruction of Troy. Others say this story is merely a rumor.
Nero certainly appears to have been a bizarre character, but that doesn’t make this story true. Roman scholars differ over interpretations of events surrounding the fire. The rivalries and conflicting accounts, even those in contemporary reports, make the ‘fiddling’ story uncertain.
So, does playing solitaire on my desktop while the potatoes boil to mush on the kitchen stove match the criteria? No, not even close. Nero was supposed to have played and sung as a tribute to the fire he was watching. I’m merely forgetful.