• 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

Examples from the Web for whittler

Historical Examples of whittler

  • Yates sat on the top rail of the fence with the whittler, whose guest he had been.

    In the Midst of Alarms

    Robert Barr

  • The whittler and Yates got down from the bench, and joined the crowd outside.

  • He had expected to find an Earth similar to the one described in Whittler's book.

  • "Nothing truer than that," returned the whittler, brushing the litter from his lap.

    Bad Hugh

    Mary Jane Holmes

  • Too much of a poet, I hope, to imagine myself more than a whittler of reeds!

    There and Back

    George MacDonald

British Dictionary definitions for whittler


  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 whittler



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

whittler 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.