win·​kle | \ ˈwiŋ-kəl How to pronounce winkle (audio) \

Definition of winkle

 (Entry 1 of 3)


verb (1)
winkled; winkling\ ˈwiŋ-​k(ə-​)liŋ How to pronounce winkling (audio) \

Definition of winkle (Entry 2 of 3)


verb (2)
winkled; winkling\ ˈwiŋ-​k(ə-​)liŋ How to pronounce winkling (audio) \

Definition of winkle (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1 chiefly British : to displace, remove, or evict from a position usually used with out
2 chiefly British : to obtain or draw out by effort usually used with outno attempt to winkle out why they do it— Joan Bakewell

Winkle and WWI

If you have ever extracted a winkle from its shell, then you understand how the verb winkle came to be. The word winkle is short for periwinkle, the name of a marine or freshwater snail. Periwinkle is ultimately derived from Latin pina, the name of a mussel, and Old English wincle, a snail shell. Evidently the personnel of World War I's Allied Powers found their duty of finding and removing the enemy from the trenches analogous to extracting a well-entrenched snail and began using winkle to describe their efforts. The action of "winkling the enemy out" was later extended to other situations, such as "winkling information out of someone."

First Known Use of winkle


1585, in the meaning defined above

Verb (1)

1791, in the meaning defined above

Verb (2)

1918, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for winkle


by shortening

Verb (1)

frequentative of wink

Verb (2)

winkle entry 1; from the process of extracting a winkle from its shell

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The first known use of winkle was in 1585

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Cite this Entry

“Winkle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.

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