Date: 1500-1600
Origin: whittle 'large knife' (15-19 centuries), from thwittle (14-19 centuries), from thwite 'to whittle' (11-19 centuries), from Old English thwitan


1 also whittle down [transitive] to gradually make something smaller by taking parts away:
We need to whittle down the list of guests for the party.
2TIC [intransitive and transitive] to cut a piece of wood into a particular shape by cutting off small pieces with a knife [↪ carve]

whittle away

phrasal verb
to gradually reduce the amount or effectiveness of something, especially something that you think should not be reduced
whittle something ↔ away
The museum is worried that government funding will be whittled away.
whittle away at
Congress is whittling away at our freedom of speech.

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