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whittle

[hwit-l, wit-l] /ˈʰwɪt l, ˈwɪt l/
verb (used with object), whittled, whittling.
1.
to cut, trim, or shape (a stick, piece of wood, etc.) by carving off bits with a knife.
2.
to form by whittling:
to whittle a figure.
3.
to cut off (a bit).
4.
to reduce the amount of, as if by whittling; pare down; take away by degrees (usually followed by down, away, etc.):
to whittle down the company's overhead; to whittle away one's inheritance.
verb (used without object), whittled, whittling.
5.
to whittle wood or the like with a knife, as in shaping something or as a mere aimless diversion:
to spend an afternoon whittling.
6.
to tire oneself or another by worrying or fussing.
noun
7.
British Dialect. a knife, especially a large one, as a carving knife or a butcher knife.
Origin of whittle
late Middle English
1375-1425
1375-1425; late Middle English (noun), dialectal variant of thwitel knife, Old English thwīt(an) to cut + -el -le
Related forms
whittler, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for whittle down
Historical Examples
  • Mr. Hatfield had warned them that Mr. Merrimac might be inclined to whittle down the five hundred dollar pledge.

  • He admits of no exception to whittle down this great and divine law of love.

    A Letter to a Hindu Leo Tolstoy
  • Money is the only thing that moves her, and when she has taken a bribe she will whittle down the service to the finest point.

  • He proposed to whittle down these claims by raising the number of Irish members in the United Parliament either to 127 or 141.

    William Pitt and the Great War John Holland Rose
  • It would be midsummer madness to reject or whittle down a claim so backed.

    Freedom's Battle Mahatma Gandhi
  • Ive got to whittle down the end of the mast to make it fit in, declared Tom after a trial.

British Dictionary definitions for whittle down

whittle

/ˈwɪtəl/
verb
1.
to cut or shave strips or pieces from (wood, a stick, etc), esp with a knife
2.
(transitive) to make or shape by paring or shaving
3.
(transitive; often foll by away, down, off, etc) to reduce, destroy, or wear away gradually
4.
(Northern English, dialect) (intransitive) to complain or worry about something continually
noun
5.
(Brit, dialect) a knife, esp a large one
Derived Forms
whittler, noun
Word Origin
C16: variant of C15 thwittle large knife, from Old English thwitel, from thwītan to cut; related to Old Norse thveitr cut, thveita to beat

Whittle

/ˈwɪtəl/
noun
1.
Sir Frank. 1907–96, English engineer, who invented the jet engine for aircraft; flew first British jet aircraft (1941)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for whittle down

whittle

v.

1550s, "to cut thin shavings from (something) with a knife," from Middle English whittel "a knife" (c1400), variant of thwittle (late 14c.), from Old English þwitan "to cut," from Proto-Germanic *thwitanan (cf. Old Norse þveita "to hew"). Figurative sense is attested from 1746. Related: Whittled; whittling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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whittle down in Science
Whittle
  (wĭt'l)   
British aeronautical engineer and inventor who developed the first aircraft engine powered by jet propulsion in 1937.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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