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Related to whittle away: whittle down
1. To carve small sections away from something, especially a piece of wood continuously or at length. My grandfather used to sit in his armchair with a hunk of wood and his pocket knife, whittling away for hours at a time.
2. To carve small sections away from something, especially a piece of wood, to in order to shape it or make it smaller. A noun or pronoun can be used between "whittle" and "away." We used to sit on our back porch and whittle away blocks of soap into the shapes of tiny animals. I had to keep whittling the edge of the door away until it finally fit into the frame properly.
3. To reduce or eliminate the size, scope, or strength of something by incrementally removing small parts. A noun or pronoun can be used between "whittle" and "away." If they keep whittling away our budget like this, our department will have to close down before too long. The president's administration continued to whittle away the powers of congress and the courts until he had complete control of the country. Having to write a thesis this length was daunting, but I've just whittled it away every day for the last three months.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
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.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.