whittle away

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whittle away

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.
See also: away, whittle
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.
See also: away, whittle
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

whittle away

v.
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.
See also: away, whittle
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.
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References in periodicals archive ?
CRISIS club Chester City's playing squad continues to be whittled away, with promising youngster James Owen cancelling his contract by mutual consent last night.
The unique freedoms we enjoy under Magna Carta, and which are already being whittled away by EU regulations, will be gone completely.
A Government source said: "We cannot stand aside and see our loved ones decline as everything they have worked for is whittled away to pay for care." The cost is expected to be pounds 670million a year.
Villa have seen what was a six-point lead over Arsenal for the last Champions League spot whittled away.
The champions have seen a seven-point lead whittled away to just one following defeats to secondplaced Liverpool and Fulham before the international break.
It sounds as though access to your property has been whittled away over the years.
Concerns have mounted that the insurers' capital strength could be whittled away by tumbling share prices amid the economic downturn.
And as DVD gets whittled away with piracy, there won't be any income.
'Pension entitlements are constantly being whittled away without justification except the inevitable cost-cutting in organisations that are delivering record profits.
With painstaking (and sometimes painful) attention to detail, Butler parses the words of one UN document after another, revealing how UNSCOM's authority was gradually whittled away. Moreover, Butler came to realize that Annan's inner circle of advisers had grown increasingly distrustful of UNSCOM, since it didn't conform to proper UN culture.
The comic, famous for his impersonations of Northern Ireland politicians, revealed that his earnings were being whittled away by crafty bootleggers and market stall operators.
INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL (Monday, ITV1, ko 8pm) features the World Cup warm-up match of England v Mexico (ko 8pm) before Davina McCall hosts a new game show called The Million Pound Drop Live (Channel 4, 10pm) in which pounds 1 million is whittled away.
The Liberal Democrats have been in control of the city since 1998 - first under Mike Storey and latterly Warren Bradley - but the party's majority has been whittled away in recent years and commentators believe the big night of May 6 could go one of three ways.
Concerns have mounted that insurers' capital strength could be whittled away by tumbling share prices.
Somehow, he was backed down to 1.03, yet it was clear approaching the final furlong that the colt was running on empty and his lead was whittled away, Young Dottie proving the main beneficiary after being backed at 130.