whittle (someone or something) down to size

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whittle (someone or something) down to size

1. To reduce something to a smaller size or scale over time. Just write down everything that comes to mind. We can worry about whittling it down to size during the edit. The boss has had to whittle our team down to size in the order to keep the company afloat.
2. To lower someone's self-esteem or reduce their ego gradually over time, especially through minor but continual criticism or humiliation. The professor just kept whittling students down to size over the course of the semester. You might be feeling untouchable right now, but this industry has whittled plenty of young punks like you down to size, just you wait.
See also: down, size, whittle

whittle someone down to size

Fig. to reduce someone's ego; to cause someone to have better, more respectful behavior. (Fig. on whittle something down (to size).) After a few days at camp, the counselors had whittled young Walter down to size. It took some doing, but they whittled him down to size.
See also: down, size, whittle