winkle

noun
win·kle | \ˈwiŋ-kəl \

Definition of winkle 

(Entry 1 of 3)

winkle

verb (1)
winkled; winkling\ˈwiŋ-k(ə-)liŋ \

Definition of winkle (Entry 2 of 3)

winkle

verb (2)
winkled; winkling\ˈwiŋ-k(ə-)liŋ \

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 out no 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

Noun

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

Noun

by shortening

Verb (1)

frequentative of wink

Verb (2)

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about winkle

Listen to Our Podcast about winkle

Statistics for winkle

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for winkle

The first known use of winkle was in 1585

See more words from the same year

More from Merriam-Webster on winkle

See words that rhyme with winkle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for winkle

Comments on winkle

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

WORD OF THE DAY

required by fashion, etiquette, or custom

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

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

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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