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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Feel confident in your swimsuit this summer with the following waist-whittling moves: Plank taps Start in a plank position with hands aligned below shoulders. Philly.com, "4 efficient exercises for a slimmer waistline," 12 June 2018 Netflix helps viewers whittle down those choices through personalization of the website. Gina Barton, Vox, "A thumbnail is worth a thousand words.," 21 Nov. 2018 State officials instead whittled it down and gave the names of more than 2,600 voters to local election supervisors who were asked to check them. Gary Fineout, The Seattle Times, "Florida’s effort to find non-citizen voters had slim results," 13 Nov. 2018 Just this past September in New York, Opening Ceremony featured drag performers on its runway, and there were numerous waist-whittling corsets at the men’s shows in June. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, "In Georgia, One Young Designer Is Bringing Drag to the Runway," 12 Nov. 2018 As the bags whittled down from four to two, the madness appeared to be too much for judge Mel B. Almost seven minutes into the act, the former Spice Girl pressed her buzzer and spun her chair away from the stage. Kayla Keegan, Good Housekeeping, "Why 'America's Got Talent' Fans Flipped Out at Mel B During Aaron Crow's Performance," 29 Aug. 2018 Makeup artist Carola Gonzalez stacked orange and white pigments on top of each other (twice!) and then whittled the edges into a crisp, graphic wing shape. Sophia Panych, Allure, "The Best Celebrity Beauty Looks of the Week," 3 Aug. 2018 The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump’s shortlist his been whittled even further, and is now focused on three U.S. appeals court judges: Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Raymond Kethledge. Margaret Hartmann, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump’s Supreme Court Pageant Could Come Down to Looks," 5 July 2018 Many face tough races, and their numbers may be whittled down by both general-election losses to men and to other women. Celeste Katz, Glamour, "Tuesday's Primaries Lead to Historic Number of Women Nominees for Governor and Congress," 8 Aug. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about whittle

Statistics for whittle

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for whittle

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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.

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on whittle

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with whittle

Spanish Central: Translation of whittle

Nglish: Translation of whittle for Spanish Speakers

Comments on whittle

What made you want to look up whittle? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


the figure or shape of a crescent moon

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!