• synonyms


[hwit-ling, wit-]
  1. the act of a person who whittles.
  2. Often whittlings. a bit or chip whittled off.
Show More

Origin of whittling

First recorded in 1605–15; whittle + -ing1


[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.
Show More
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.
Show More
  1. British Dialect. a knife, especially a large one, as a carving knife or a butcher knife.
Show More

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 whittling

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

Examples from the Web for whittling

Historical Examples of whittling

  • No; and they were whittling, making a boat, and couldn't be bothered.

    Harper's Young People, June 29, 1880


  • 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

British Dictionary definitions for whittling


  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
Show More
  1. British dialect a knife, esp a large one
Show More
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)
Show More
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 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.

Show More
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

whittling in Science


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