whittle away at (something)

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whittle away at (something)

1. To carve small sections away from something, especially a piece of wood, to in order to shape it or make it smaller. We used to sit on our back porch and whittle away at blocks of soap until they were in the shapes of tiny animals. I had to keep whittling away at the edge of the door until it fit into the frame properly.
2. To reduce or eliminate the size, scope, or strength of something by incrementally removing small parts. If they keep whittling away at our budget like this, our department will have to close down before too long. The president's administration continued to whittle away at 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 away at it every day for the last three months.
See also: away, whittle