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[hwit-ling, wit-] /ˈʰwɪt lɪŋ, ˈwɪt-/
the act of a person who whittles.
Often, whittlings. a bit or chip whittled off.
Origin of whittling
First recorded in 1605-15; whittle + -ing1


[hwit-l, wit-l] /ˈʰwɪt l, ˈwɪt l/
verb (used with object), whittled, whittling.
to cut, trim, or shape (a stick, piece of wood, etc.) by carving off bits with a knife.
to form by whittling:
to whittle a figure.
to cut off (a bit).
to reduce the amount of, as if by whittling; pare down; take away by degrees (usually followed by down, away, etc.):
to whittle down the company's overhead; to whittle away one's inheritance.
verb (used without object), whittled, whittling.
to whittle wood or the like with a knife, as in shaping something or as a mere aimless diversion:
to spend an afternoon whittling.
to tire oneself or another by worrying or fussing.
British Dialect. a knife, especially a large one, as a carving knife or a butcher knife.
1375-1425; late Middle English (noun), dialectal variant of thwitel knife, Old English thwīt(an) to cut + -el -le
Related forms
whittler, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for whittling
Historical Examples
  • No; and they were whittling, making a boat, and couldn't be bothered.

  • But the whittling keeps his hands and eyes busy, and steadies his nerves.

    Ben Comee

    M. J. (Michael Joseph) Canavan
  • He snailed over his whittling as we laughed heartily at the droll effect of it all.

    Eben Holden Irving Bacheller
  • He was whittling as he considered a challenge from Tip Taylor to shoot a match.

    Eben Holden Irving Bacheller
  • Some were whittling, some making aimless marks in the dust with a stick.

    The Panchronicon Harold Steele Mackaye
  • Ad thinks he says, 'All day whittling, whittling, whittling.'

    When Life Was Young C. A. Stephens
  • The detective was whittling, dropping the chips into the waste-basket.

    No Clue James Hay
  • He resumed his whittling, refusing to answer any questions, vociferating that he was busy.

    The Octopus Frank Norris
  • No one moved from his place; here and there, indeed, one of them went on whittling.

  • Carl questioned, laying down his whittling and facing his mother.

    Carl and the Cotton Gin

    Sara Ware Bassett
British Dictionary definitions for whittling


to cut or shave strips or pieces from (wood, a stick, etc), esp with a knife
(transitive) to make or shape by paring or shaving
(transitive; often foll by away, down, off, etc) to reduce, destroy, or wear away gradually
(Northern English, dialect) (intransitive) to complain or worry about something continually
(Brit, dialect) a knife, esp a large one
Derived Forms
whittler, noun
Word Origin
C16: variant of C15 thwittle large knife, from Old English thwitel, from thwītan to cut; related to Old Norse thveitr cut, thveita to beat


Sir Frank. 1907–96, English engineer, who invented the jet engine for aircraft; flew first British jet aircraft (1941)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for whittling



1550s, "to cut thin shavings from (something) with a knife," from Middle English whittel "a knife" (c1400), variant of thwittle (late 14c.), from Old English þwitan "to cut," from Proto-Germanic *thwitanan (cf. Old Norse þveita "to hew"). Figurative sense is attested from 1746. Related: Whittled; whittling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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whittling in Science
British aeronautical engineer and inventor who developed the first aircraft engine powered by jet propulsion in 1937.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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