Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal, Encyclopedia.
Related to whittle down: whittle away, take it on the chin, cut some slack, catch you later, run an errand
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 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 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.