whit·​tle | \ ˈ(h)wi-tᵊl How to pronounce whittle (audio) \

Definition of whittle

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a large knife


whittled; whittling\ ˈ(h)wit-​liŋ , ˈ(h)wi-​tᵊl-​iŋ How to pronounce whittle (audio) \

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 \ ˈ(h)wit-​lər , ˈ(h)wi-​tᵊl-​ər How to pronounce whittle (audio) \ noun

Examples of whittle in a Sentence

Verb 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 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 Instead, whittle your expectations and start by going to the gym once a week for just half an hour or less, Dr. Dolan advised. New York Times, "This Year, Try Downsizing Your Resolutions," 29 Dec. 2020 Metcalfe, the senior director of marketing for the Catalina Island Co. also takes time to curate to whittle the phone shots down to just the best ones. Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY, "How to find photos on your phone? Here's how I do it.," 20 Dec. 2020 Wells Fargo may whittle down the auction to one or two suitors after the next round, depending on how good the offers are, the person said. Matthew Monks, Bloomberg.com, "Ameriprise, CI Eyeing Wells Fargo Asset Management Arm," 14 Dec. 2020 Often, sneaky Connecticut vendors would whittle fake nutmegs and put them in the middle of a tin of real nutmegs, to increase their profits. Susan Dunne, courant.com, "’Creating Connecticut’ author tells stories from history of state," 9 Dec. 2020 As early as March, state and local regulations shut down dining halls and began to whittle down the ranks of sit-down eateries. The Economist, "The surprising resilience of American restaurant chains," 3 Dec. 2020 Irvin intends to whittle down the candidates to finalists by Jan. 5, and interview those finalists Jan. 6 through 16. Steve Lord, chicagotribune.com, "First week brings 66 candidates for Aurora’s new Police Civilian Review Board," 9 Dec. 2020 DeGeeter said the city continues to whittle down the bigger projects, with an eye on the smaller septic-to-sewer conversions. John Benson, cleveland, "Parma scheduling 2021 EPA-mandated septic-to-sewer conversions on Old Rockside and Broadrock Court," 11 Nov. 2020 Spikeball continues to be one of our favorite games to whittle away time in the backyard. Popular Mechanics Editors, Popular Mechanics, "The 2020 Game and Toy Awards," 4 Nov. 2020

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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Time Traveler for whittle

Time Traveler

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

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Cite this Entry

“Whittle.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whittle. Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

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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 How to pronounce whittle (audio) , 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.

More from Merriam-Webster on whittle

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Nglish: Translation of whittle for Spanish Speakers

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