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Related to whittle: Frank Whittle, whittle down
whittle at something
to cut or carve at something. He just sat there, whittling at a chunk of wood. I am not carving anything, I am just whittling at some wood.
See also: whittle
whittle someone down to size
Fig. to reduce someone's ego; to cause someone to have better, more respectful behavior. (Fig. on whittle something down (to size).) After a few days at camp, the counselors had whittled young Walter down to size. It took some doing, but they whittled him down to size.
whittle something away
to cut or carve something away. The carver whittled the wood away until only a small figure was left. He whittled away the wood.
whittle something down (to size)and whittle something down
to cut or diminish something to a more appropriate size or to the proper size. I whittled the peg down to size and it fit in the hole perfectly. You are going to have to whittle down expenses.
whittle something out of something
to carve something out of something. The young man whittled a small boat out of wood. Can you whittle an elephant out of this chunk of wood?
whittle something downalso whittle something away
to gradually reduce or destroy something By halftime our team's lead had been whittled down to only two points. College is so expensive, after two years, my college fund has been whittled away to almost nothing.
Usage notes: also used in the form whittle away at something: Over the past year, we've whittled away at our debts.
Etymology: based on the literal meaning of whittle (to shape a piece of wood by cutting strips or small pieces from it with a knife)
1. To undermine, reduce, or weaken something by small increments until completely gone or useless: The long climb up the mountain whittled away his strength. We whittled their lead away with a series of small gains.
2. To weaken or be gradually reduced by small increments: My courage whittled away with each step forward I took.
3. To eliminate something by whittling it: The carpenter whittled the excess wood away. The sculptor whittled away the clay until a perfect form emerged.
4. To whittle continuously: They whittled away until they had finished carving their sticks into spoons.
1. To reduce the size of some piece of wood by cutting small bits or paring shavings: I whittled down the pencil's tip to expose more lead. I bit nervously on my pencil until I had whittled it down to nothing.
2. To reduce something gradually, as if by whittling with a knife: The couple whittled down their debt by making small payments. We whittled the other team's lead down to one point with a series of small gains.
mod. alcohol intoxicated; filled with liquor. (see also cut.) Fred’s whittled again and shouldn’t drive home.
See also: whittle