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From Middle English winewen, windewen, windwen, from Old English windwian (to winnow, fan, ventilate), from Proto-Germanic *windwōną (to throw about, winnow), from Proto-Indo-European *wē- (to winnow, thresh). Cognate with Middle High German winden (to winnow), Icelandic vinsa (to pick out, weed), Latin vannus. See fan, van.



winnow (third-person singular simple present winnows, present participle winnowing, simple past and past participle winnowed)

  1. (transitive, agriculture) To subject (granular material, especially food grain) to a current of air separating heavier and lighter components, as grain from chaff.
    • 1998, Sid Perkins, “Thin Skin”, Science News, volume 165, number 1, page 11: 
      ...wind began to winnow the river delta's dried sediments.
  2. (transitive, figuratively) To separate, sift, analyze, or test in this manner.
    They winnowed the field to twelve.
    They winnowed the winners from the losers.
    They winnowed the losers from the winners.
  3. (transitive, literary) To blow upon or toss about by blowing; to set in motion as with a fan or wings.
  4. (intransitive, literary, dated) To move about with a flapping motion, as of wings; to flutter.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Used with adverb or preposition "down"; see also winnow down.
  • Used with adverbs or prepositions "through", "away", and "out".

Derived terms[edit]



winnow (plural winnows)

  1. That which winnows or which is used in winnowing; a contrivance for fanning or winnowing grain.