Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To cut small bits or pare shavings from (a piece of wood).
  • transitive v. To fashion or shape in this way: whittle a toy boat.
  • transitive v. To reduce or eliminate gradually, as if by whittling with a knife: whittled down the debt by making small payments.
  • intransitive v. To cut or shape wood with a knife.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A large knife.
  • v. To cut or shape wood with a knife.
  • v. To reduce or gradually eliminate something (such as a debt).

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A grayish, coarse double blanket worn by countrywomen, in the west of England, over the shoulders, like a cloak or shawl.
  • n. Same as Whittle shawl, below.
  • n. A knife; esp., a pocket, sheath, or clasp knife.
  • transitive v. To pare or cut off the surface of with a small knife; to cut or shape, as a piece of wood held in the hand, with a clasp knife or pocketknife.
  • transitive v. To edge; to sharpen; to render eager or excited; esp., to excite with liquor; to inebriate.
  • intransitive v. To cut or shape a piece of wood with am small knife; to cut up a piece of wood with a knife.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Originally, a blanket; later, a coarse shaggy mantle or woolen shawl worn by West-country women in England.
  • n. A knife; especially, a large knife, as a butcher's knife or one carried in the girdle.
  • To cut or dress with a knife; form with a whittle or knife: as, to whittle a stick.
  • To pare, or reduce by paring, literally or figuratively.
  • To intoxicate; make tipsy or drunk.
  • To cut wood with a pocket-knife, either aimlessly or with the intention of forming something; use a pocket-knife in cutting wood or shaping wooden things.
  • To confess at the gallows.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. cut small bits or pare shavings from
  • n. English aeronautical engineer who invented the jet aircraft engine (1907-1996)

Etymologies

From Middle English whyttel, knife, variant of thwitel, from thwiten, to whittle, from Old English thwītan, to strike, whittle down.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English whittel ("large knife"), an alteration of thwitel, itself from thwiten ("to whittle"), from Old English thwitan. Compare Old Norse þveita ("to hurl") (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Entering series number six, the programme will once again whittle down a select few hopefuls from hundreds of thousands and give them the belief they’ll win an elusive record deal.

    X Factor Betting Odds: Rebecca Loos To Judge?

  • O'NEIL: Well, 120 hours of rehearsal footage was used to make two hours, like, yes, you could kind of whittle it down here.

    CNN Transcript Oct 25, 2009

  • But for the networks, the PBS Lehrer News Hour included, it was not newsworthy, for certainly it would have cast light on the power of networks to "whittle" down the field of candidates according to their liking.

    Bread and Circuses and the General Electric Presidential Debate

  • Johnnie, who loved to "whittle" above all things, dried her tears, and ran for her shade hat; and by the time the tiny brown seeds were sprinkled into the brown earth of the borders, both the girls were themselves again.

    Clover

  • But next day, when they returned to the place, the cloud was gone, and the "whittle" was never seen again.

    The Book of Noodles Stories of Simpletons; or, Fools and Their Follies

  • Yorkshire, are said also to have had but one knife, or "whittle," which was deposited under a tree, and if it was not found there when wanted, the "carle" requiring it called out, "Whittle to the tree!"

    The Book of Noodles Stories of Simpletons; or, Fools and Their Follies

  • The captain coming up to have a little conversation, and to introduce a friend, seated himself astride of one of these barrels, like a Bacchus of private life; and pulling a great clasp-knife out of his pocket, began to "whittle" it as he talked, by paring thin slices off the edges.

    American Notes

  • The captain coming up to have a little conversation, and to introduce a friend, seated himself astride of one of these barrels, like a Bacchus of private life; and pulling a great clasp-knife out of his pocket, began to 'whittle' it as he talked, by paring thin slices off the edges.

    American Notes

  • a scarlet "whittle" over all this motley finery; with a "outwork quoyf or ciffer" (New England French for coiffure) with "long wings" at the side, and a silk or tiffany hood on her drooping head, -- Priscilla in this attire were pretty indeed.

    Sabbath in Puritan New England

  • Governments usually try to whittle down measures that threaten their hold on power.

    Nations Seek to Make Tunisia Model for Democracy in Region

Comments

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  • A double blanket, worn by the West country-women over their shoulders, like cloaks. --A Provincial Glossary, 1787.

    May 5, 2011

  • Whittle it a little, it'll fit.

    January 15, 2009