whittle down

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whittle down

To reduce the size or scope of something incrementally by removing small parts. The phrase alludes to whittling wood, in which small bits are carved off with a knife. A noun or pronoun can be used between "whittle" and "down." We're not going to make any major cuts, but we do need to whittle down the budget by reducing costs here and there. I think you need to whittle down your thesis to a more concise point. Right now it's a little too broad. Right now your speech is just a little long. Do you think you can whittle it down a bit?
See also: down, whittle

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.
See also: down, whittle

whittle down

v.
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.
See also: down, whittle