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[hwit-ling, wit-] /ˈʰwɪt lɪŋ, ˈwɪt-/
the act of a person who whittles.
Often, whittlings. a bit or chip whittled off.
Origin of whittling
1605-15; whittle + -ing1


[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.
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 whittling
  • whittling this mountain of degrees, awards, and experience down to one perfect professor will be daunting.
  • Don't let your tardiness be responsible for whittling it down further.
  • The market had expected some form of easing but had not imagined a whittling of interest rates, however symbolic.
  • The market had expected some form of monetary easing but hadn't imagined a whittling of interest rates, even if merely symbolic.
  • Filthy and lethargic, he sat by the fire, aimlessly whittling away at small sticks and turning them into barbed hooks.
  • But, of course, they've been whittling away at their music offerings for quite a while now.
  • Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand.
  • On cross-examination, defense counsel was successful in whittling the number down to five instead of seven.
  • We continue this process of whittling down the number of possible candidates with each bit of new information.
  • Practically every amendment has resulted in the whittling away of the electorate's civil liberties in one way or another.
British Dictionary definitions for whittling


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 whittling



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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whittling 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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