winnow

verb
win·​now | \ˈwi-(ˌ)nō \
winnowed; winnowing; winnows

Definition of winnow 

(Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1a(1) : to remove (something, such as chaff) by a current of air

(2) : to get rid of (something undesirable or unwanted) : remove often used with out winnow out certain inaccuracies— Stanley Walker

b(1) : separate, sift an old hand at winnowing what is true and significant— Oscar Lewis

(2) : select

2a : to treat (something, such as grain) by exposure to a current of air so that waste matter is eliminated

b : to free of unwanted or inferior elements : pare

c : narrow, reduce winnowed the field to four contenders

3 : to blow on : fan the wind winnowing his thin white hairTime

intransitive verb

1 : to separate chaff from grain by fanning

2 : to separate desirable and undesirable elements

winnow

noun

Definition of winnow (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a device for winnowing

2a : the action of winnowing

b : a motion resembling that of winnowing

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Other Words from winnow

Verb

winnower \ˈwi-​nə-​wər \ noun

Winnow Has Old English Roots

Verb

Beginning as windwian in Old English, winnow first referred to the removal of chaff from grain by a current of air. This use was soon extended to describe the removal of anything undesirable or unwanted (a current example of this sense would be "winnowing out outdated information"). People then began using the word for the selection of the most desirable elements (as in "winnowing out the true statements from the lies"). The association of winnow with the movement of air led to the meaning "to beat with or as if with wings," but that use is rare enough that it is found only in Merriam-Webster Unabridged. The word's last meaning ("to blow on or fan") blew in at the turn of the 19th century.

Examples of winnow in a Sentence

Verb

The least qualified applicants were winnowed out of the initial pool. Harvesters winnowed the chaff from the wheat.

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The Allure of Immortality By Lyn Millner (2015) 2Here’s how a bizarre cult winnowed its way into an otherwise conservative Florida community in the late 1800s. Jeff Guinn, WSJ, "Five Best: Jeff Guinn on Books About Cults," 23 Aug. 2018 Attorneys argued that without an election to winnow the field of candidates in the first year in decades that all judicial elections are partisan, the party would not have a way to let voters know its candidate of choice on the November ballot. Jim Morrill And Anne Blythe, charlotteobserver, "How this GOP candidate could help Democrats keep control of the NC Supreme Court," 4 July 2018 California cities, on the other hand, have had numerous smaller quakes that have winnowed those most susceptible to quakes. Elliot Njus, OregonLive.com, "Easing earthquake mandate for old brick buildings might just delay inevitable, experts say," 9 May 2018 The four semifinalists, winnowed down from a field of 32, have ensured that the coveted World Cup will remain in Europe, a continent with overwhelming dominance on the world soccer stage. Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Fox News, "World Cup final four teams set with elimination of host team Russia," 7 July 2018 The jury winnowed the field to five finalists in late January. Hannah Natanson, Washington Post, "Design is chosen for first national monument to Native American military veterans," 26 June 2018 But as the end of the 2010s approaches, reality TV has become an ouroboros, so self-referential and saturated that opportunities for advancement — or growth, or shock — have winnowed. Jon Caramanica, New York Times, "On ‘Jersey Shore Family Vacation’ and ‘Trading Spaces,’ Reality TV Eats Itself," 4 Apr. 2018 Now, the submission period has closed, and the museum has winnowed the pool of designs down to five possibilities. Ryan P. Smith, Smithsonian, "This Innovative Memorial Will Soon Honor Native American Veterans," 11 May 2018 The primary to winnow the field in both the Senate and gubernatorial races is Aug. 14. Washington Post, "Republican Governors Association books $5M for Walker ads," 9 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

That amount of freedom kind of winnows and expands throughout the piece. Seth Colter Walls, New York Times, "A Long-Lost Score, Rebuilt With the Help of a Photo," 19 Jan. 2018 And by splintering the vote in Ohio and Florida, Mr. Cruz also risks handing Mr. Trump advantages in momentum and delegates that could be unstoppable, no matter how much the field winnows. Jonathan Martin, New York Times, "Democratic Debate: Analysis," 5 Mar. 2016

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'winnow.' 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 winnow

Verb

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a(1)

Noun

1580, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for winnow

Verb

Middle English winewen, from Old English windwian to fan, winnow; akin to Old High German wintōn to fan, Latin vannus winnowing fan, ventus wind — more at wind

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Last Updated

11 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for winnow

The first known use of winnow was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for winnow

winnow

verb

English Language Learners Definition of winnow

: to remove (people or things that are less important, desirable, etc.) from a larger group or list : to make (a list of possible choices) smaller by removing the less desirable choices

: to remove (the unwanted coverings of seeds) from grain by throwing the grain up in the air and letting the wind blow the unwanted parts away

winnow

verb
win·​now | \ˈwi-nō \
winnowed; winnowing

Kids Definition of winnow

1 : to remove (as waste from grain) by a current of air

2 : to sort or separate from a larger group

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More from Merriam-Webster on winnow

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with winnow

Spanish Central: Translation of winnow

Nglish: Translation of winnow for Spanish Speakers

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