• synonyms


[hwit-l, wit-l]
verb (used with object), whit·tled, whit·tling.
  1. to cut, trim, or shape (a stick, piece of wood, etc.) by carving off bits with a knife.
  2. to form by whittling: to whittle a figure.
  3. to cut off (a bit).
  4. 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.
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verb (used without object), whit·tled, whit·tling.
  1. to whittle wood or the like with a knife, as in shaping something or as a mere aimless diversion: to spend an afternoon whittling.
  2. to tire oneself or another by worrying or fussing.
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  1. British Dialect. a knife, especially a large one, as a carving knife or a butcher knife.
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Origin of whittle

1375–1425; late Middle English (noun), dialectal variant of thwitel knife, Old English thwīt(an) to cut + -el -le
Related formswhit·tler, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for whittled

trim, shave, pare, erode, lessen, diminish, hew, consume, form, chip, shape, fashion, decrease, carve, model, mold, undermine, sculpt

Examples from the Web for whittled

Contemporary Examples of whittled

Historical Examples of whittled

  • She wanted a sail for that shingle craft I whittled out for her.


    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • They are whittled round at one end and pointed at the other.

  • The upper end was whittled so as to make a convenient handle for the user.

    The Boy Settlers

    Noah Brooks

  • "I just whittled out a kind of a clothespin163 man," he explained.


    Zona Gale

  • We were a pretty big section once, but Thurston's virus has whittled us down.


    Jesse Franklin Bone

British Dictionary definitions for whittled


  1. to cut or shave strips or pieces from (wood, a stick, etc), esp with a knife
  2. (tr) to make or shape by paring or shaving
  3. (tr; often foll by away, down, off, etc) to reduce, destroy, or wear away gradually
  4. Northern English dialect (intr) to complain or worry about something continually
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  1. British dialect a knife, esp a large one
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Derived Formswhittler, noun

Word Origin for whittle

C16: variant of C15 thwittle large knife, from Old English thwitel, from thwītan to cut; related to Old Norse thveitr cut, thveita to beat


  1. Sir Frank. 1907–96, English engineer, who invented the jet engine for aircraft; flew first British jet aircraft (1941)
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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

Word Origin and History for whittled



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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

whittled in Science


  1. British aeronautical engineer and inventor who developed the first aircraft engine powered by jet propulsion in 1937.
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The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.