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[hwit-l, wit-l] /ˈʰwɪt l, ˈwɪt l/
verb (used with object), whittled, whittling.
to cut, trim, or shape (a stick, piece of wood, etc.) by carving off bits with a knife.
to form by whittling:
to whittle a figure.
to cut off (a bit).
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.
to whittle wood or the like with a knife, as in shaping something or as a mere aimless diversion:
to spend an afternoon whittling.
to tire oneself or another by worrying or fussing.
British Dialect. a knife, especially a large one, as a carving knife or a butcher knife.
Origin of whittle
late Middle English
1375-1425; late Middle English (noun), dialectal variant of thwitel knife, Old English thwīt(an) to cut + -el -le
Related forms
whittler, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for whittled
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • "State yo' case," commanded the judge, as he tried the point of his splinter against his thumb to test its whittled sharpness.

    The Heart's Kingdom Maria Thompson Daviess
  • The upper end was whittled so as to make a convenient handle for the user.

    The Boy Settlers Noah Brooks
  • The second whittled the difference down to a question of not very important figures, on which Parliament must soon decide.

    Lord Randolph Churchill Winston Spencer Churchill
  • He took out his knife and whittled through the hoops of a barrel.

    Lady Luck Hugh Wiley
  • A wildly improbable development had been whittled down to a five-to-one chance.

    Number Seventeen Louis Tracy
British Dictionary definitions for whittled


to cut or shave strips or pieces from (wood, a stick, etc), esp with a knife
(transitive) to make or shape by paring or shaving
(transitive; often foll by away, down, off, etc) to reduce, destroy, or wear away gradually
(Northern English, dialect) (intransitive) to complain or worry about something continually
(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


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 whittled



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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whittled in Science
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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