Definition of whittle in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈwɪt(ə)l/


[with object]
1Carve (wood) into an object by repeatedly cutting small slices from it: he was sitting at the tent door, whittling a piece of wood with a knife
More example sentences
  • He volleyed as if he was using his racket to whittle wood, slicing this way and that and caressing the ball into submission.
  • We were forced to hotfoot it to Borneo, where we lived on the edge of the jungle for the next twenty years, whittling wood into supposedly erotic shapes that we then sold as tribal trinkets.
  • The Americans of the volunteers joked about how whittling wood was an American habit.
pare, shave, peel, cut, hew, trim, carve, shape, model
1.1Carve (an object) from wood: a set of chess pieces he had whittled himself
More example sentences
  • He had given the horses some grain, and now he was whittling a figure out of a piece of wood.
  • It turns out it's whittling wooden figurines for schoolchildren.
  • And many people obviously rely on the good old Swiss Army knife or one of its derivatives for everything from trimming nails and opening bottles to putting in screws and whittling firesticks.
2 (whittle something away/down) Reduce something in size, amount, or extent by a gradual series of steps: the shortlist of fifteen was whittled down to five
More example sentences
  • Vast amounts are whittled away on such concepts as benchmarking and decentralisation, but urgent road projects are still being argued over at Oireachtas committees.
  • After a bit of experimentation, Jill is able to whittle the problem down to four steps that always cause the same behavior.
  • Goddard explains: ‘Gradually we just whittled the novel away.’
erode, wear away, eat away, consume, use up, reduce, diminish, undermine, weaken, threaten, sabotage, subvert, compromise, destroy, impair, mar, spoil, ruin, impede, hinder, damage, hurt, injure, cripple, disable, enfeeble, emasculate, sap, shake, break, crush
reduce, cut down, cut back, cut, prune, trim, slim down, pare down, salami-slice, shrink, make cutbacks in, lessen, decrease, diminish, make reductions in, scale down


Mid 16th century: from dialect whittle 'knife'.

Words that rhyme with whittle

acquittal, belittle, brittle, committal, embrittle, it'll, kittle, little, remittal, skittle, spittle, tittle, victual

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: whit¦tle

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