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


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verb (1)

winkled; winkling ˈwiŋ-k(ə-)liŋ How to pronounce winkle (audio)


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verb (2)

winkled; winkling

transitive verb

chiefly British : to displace, remove, or evict from a position
usually used with out
chiefly British : to obtain or draw out by effort
usually used with out
no attempt to winkle out why they do itJoan Bakewell

Did you know?

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."

Examples of winkle in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
The depictions of the clothing take into consideration the way fabric stretches and winkles as it’s worn to produce lifelike images. Davey Alba,, 14 June 2023 Other standout looks this week shimmered like the now-ubiquitous winkle lights. Christian Allaire, Vogue, 11 Dec. 2022 This postseason includes a third wild-card spot in each league, which could add a winkle to teams seeking trade partners. Lamond Pope, Chicago Tribune, 26 July 2022
But whenever things turn too lapidary, the image will change to Sergio charging up a sheer hill or Gianfranco trying to winkle another thousand euros out of a chef. Helen Shaw, Vulture, 3 Mar. 2021 The pleasures of Glenconner’s tales must be winkled out of her sturdy if occasionally clichéd prose: revelations of the strange juxtapositions of an unexpectedly upstairs-downstairs aristocratic life. Alida Becker, New York Times, 24 Mar. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'winkle.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



by shortening

Verb (1)

frequentative of wink

Verb (2)

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

First Known Use


1585, in the meaning defined above

Verb (1)

1791, in the meaning defined above

Verb (2)

1918, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of winkle was in 1585


Dictionary Entries Near winkle

Cite this Entry

“Winkle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

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