Definition of whittle in English:



  • 1Carve (wood) into an object by repeatedly cutting small slices from it.

    ‘he was sitting at the tent door, whittling a piece of wood with a knife’
    • ‘Then, he painstakingly whittles each one a 10-inch handle with a kitchen knife, and waits till dark.’
    • ‘Excitedly, Vivienne raised her camera to capture the woman on film, then snapped some shots of an old man whittling a piece of wood.’
    • ‘How many millions were spent whittling that piece of wet balsam, I've no idea; it means nothing and invites ridicule.’
    • ‘He was whittling a piece of wood the size of his palm.’
    • ‘I really like the spey blade, as it offers a long straight edge for doing really important tasks: things like whittling a sharp point on an old stick.’
    • ‘A willowy soldier leaned against a tree near where he stood, whittling a piece of wood.’
    • ‘Her father just sat in a corner whittling a piece of wood.’
    • ‘He volleyed as if he was using his racket to whittle wood, slicing this way and that and caressing the ball into submission.’
    • ‘The Americans of the volunteers joked about how whittling wood was an American habit.’
    • ‘Seve cut his sticks to length, whittled a point in the slender end and drove it into the hosel - the round socket at the top of the iron head.’
    • ‘We were forced to hotfoot it to Borneo, where we lived on the edge of the jungle for the next twenty years, whittling wood into supposedly erotic shapes that we then sold as tribal trinkets.’
    • ‘With a jackknife, he whittled a point on a thin green stick pulled from a maple branch.’
    • ‘Later when he swore off smoking, he took up whittling wood.’
    pare, shave, peel, cut, hew, trim, carve, shape, model
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    1. 1.1 Carve (an object) from wood.
      ‘a set of chess pieces he had whittled himself’
      • ‘It turns out it's whittling wooden figurines for schoolchildren.’
      • ‘He had given the horses some grain, and now he was whittling a figure out of a piece of wood.’
      • ‘And many people obviously rely on the good old Swiss Army knife or one of its derivatives for everything from trimming nails and opening bottles to putting in screws and whittling firesticks.’
  • 2whittle something away/downReduce something in size, amount, or extent by a gradual series of steps.

    ‘the shortlist of fifteen was whittled down to five’
    • ‘A panel of judges whittled them down to the last three and we thought his was by far the best.’
    • ‘Goddard explains: ‘Gradually we just whittled the novel away.’’
    • ‘Hundreds of hopefuls entered the competition and judges at Boss Model agency have whittled them down to 10 boys and 10 girls.’
    • ‘After a bit of experimentation, Jill is able to whittle the problem down to four steps that always cause the same behavior.’
    • ‘You can't help wondering why a company that whittled Hamlet down to 90 minutes needs two-and-a-half hours for a relatively obscure Chekhov story.’
    • ‘Vast amounts are whittled away on such concepts as benchmarking and decentralisation, but urgent road projects are still being argued over at Oireachtas committees.’
    • ‘The group, which included town councillors and main figures in the development process, debated a number of options before whittling them down to three main contenders.’
    • ‘Gradually the lead was whittled down until there were only three points between the sides with a few minutes remaining.’
    • ‘On Wednesday, their provisional 67-man squad is whittled down to produce a final 37-man selection for this summer's tour to Australia.’
    • ‘Tory MPs will whittle the candidates down to two in a series of ballots starting on October 18.’
    erode, wear away, eat away, consume, use up, reduce, diminish, undermine, weaken, threaten, sabotage, subvert, compromise, destroy, impair, mar, spoil, ruin, impede, hinder, damage, hurt, injure, cripple, disable, enfeeble, emasculate, sap, shake, break, crush
    reduce, cut down, cut back, cut, prune, trim, slim down, pare down, salami-slice, shrink, make cutbacks in, lessen, decrease, diminish, make reductions in, scale down
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Mid 16th century: from dialect whittle ‘knife’.