whittle down

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Related to whittling down: whittler, whittling away

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
References in periodicals archive ?
In creating the deck and whittling down the 135 certified candidates to 52, Kamhi said he had to be discerning.
For admission beginning this fall, CSU will require high school graduates to have one additional history or social-science class and one extra laboratory-science class, whittling down the number of college-prep electives from three to only one one - much like schools in the UC system.
Fifield said even whittling down a list of 20 nursing homes to five can be taxing when trying to find the right match for a family member.
296 million a day toward whittling down a debt of more than $4 billion four years ago.
Experience always helps, so I feel a lot less stress than last time,'' said the star student from Toll Middle School, who warmed up by giving a final skim to a list of 3,850 words being used in the contest to begin whittling down a stellar field of 248 spellers from around the nation.
Bush's whittling down the vice president's lead in the state.