[hwit-ling, wit-]


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]

verb (used with object), whit·tled, whit·tling.

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), whit·tled, whit·tling.

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.

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. 2019

Examples from the Web for whittling

Historical Examples of whittling

  • 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

British Dictionary definitions for whittling



to cut or shave strips or pieces from (wood, a stick, etc), esp with a knife
(tr) to make or shape by paring or shaving
(tr; often foll by away, down, off, etc) to reduce, destroy, or wear away gradually
Northern English dialect (intr) to complain or worry about something continually


British dialect a knife, esp a large one
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



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

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

whittling in Science


[wĭtl]Sir Frank 1907-1996

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