whit·tle | \ˈhwi-tᵊl, ˈwi-\

Definition of whittle 

(Entry 1 of 2)


: a large knife


whittled; whittling\ˈhwit-liŋ, ˈwit-; ˈhwi-tᵊl-iŋ, ˈwi- \

Definition of whittle (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : to pare or cut off chips from the surface of (wood) with a knife

b : to shape or form by so paring or cutting

2 : to reduce, remove, or destroy gradually as if by cutting off bits with a knife : pare whittle down expenses

intransitive verb

1 : to cut or shape something (such as wood) by or as if by paring it with a knife

2 : to wear oneself or another out with fretting

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Other Words from whittle


whittler \ˈhwit-lər, ˈwit-; ˈhwi-tᵊl-ər, ˈwi- \ noun

Examples of whittle in a Sentence


He was sitting on the porch, whittling a stick. She whittled a walking stick from a maple tree branch.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Whittle fed Hartshorn and then scored back-to-back free-position goals, including her 200th career goal. Katherine Dunn, baltimoresun.com, "Maryland women hold off Johns Hopkins, 19-16, to advance to Big Ten final," 5 May 2017 Whittle down the big idea, ratchet it up a notch, and repeat to a beat—fight the power, and imagine all the people living life in peace, because God is a d.j. Matthew Trammell, The New Yorker, "Polarized Punks," 7 Mar. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The administration initially provided a list of about 100 under-5 children who were believed eligible for reunification by this week's deadline but whittled it down to less than 60 by Thursday. Elliot Spagat, chicagotribune.com, "Federal judge commends family reunification effort, eyes next deadline," 13 July 2018 After weeks of staying up late to watch our favorite (or not-so-favorite) teams slog their way through best-of-seven series, whittling themselves from 16 to two, we’re left with the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals. The Si Staff, SI.com, "Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Expansion Team in the Final, Unlikely Goal Scorer, More," 26 May 2018 During the azcentral Sports Awards live event at ASU Gammage on June 10, the list of eight will be whittled down to three finalists. Katherine Fitzgerald, azcentral, "American Family Insurance All-USA Arizona High School Softball Player of the Year nominees," 7 June 2018 In trying to meet the first deadline, the government began with a list of 102 children potentially eligible to be reunited and whittled that to 75 through screening that included DNA testing done by swabbing the inside of the cheek. Time, "Government Falls Short of Deadline to Reunite Separated Migrant Kids and Their Parents," 11 July 2018 In trying to meet the first deadline, the government began with a list of 102 children potentially eligible to be reunited and whittled that to 75 through screening that included DNA testing done by swabbing the inside of the cheek. Washington Post, "Reunited immigrant children scooped up into parents’ arms," 10 July 2018 Dover-Sherborn erupted for six goals in the first quarter, but the Raiders’ lead was whittled down to one early in the fourth as the Raiders were left reeling on defense and stymied on offense after scoring with ease early on. Jake Levin, BostonGlobe.com, "Dover-Sherborn prevails in D3 semifinals," 21 June 2018 After auto tariffs that would be whittled down to $51, Ms. York notes. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Tariffs and the Tax Cut," 12 June 2018 Reigning champions Germany have named their final 23-man squad for this summer's tournament in Russia, but Manchester City winger Leroy Sane surprisingly hasn't made the cut after the preliminary list was whittled down from its original 27 players. SI.com, "Germany Name Final 23-Man World Cup Squad With Man City's Leroy Sane the Shock Omission," 4 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'whittle.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of whittle


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1552, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for whittle


Middle English whittel, alteration of thwitel, from thwiten to whittle, from Old English thwītan; akin to Old Norse thveita to hew

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Phrases Related to whittle

whittle away

whittle down

Statistics for whittle

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Time Traveler for whittle

The first known use of whittle was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for whittle



English Language Learners Definition of whittle

: to cut or shape (a piece of wood) by cutting small pieces from it : to make or shape (something) from a piece of wood by cutting small pieces from it


whit·tle | \ˈhwi-tᵊl, ˈwi-\
whittled; whittling

Kids Definition of whittle

1 : to cut or shave off chips from wood : shape by cutting or shaving off chips from wood

2 : to reduce little by little They are trying to whittle down their spending.

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More from Merriam-Webster on whittle

See words that rhyme with whittle

Spanish Central: Translation of whittle

Nglish: Translation of whittle for Spanish Speakers

Comments on whittle

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