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  • IPA(key): /ˈʍɪtəl/, /ˈwɪtəl/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɪtəl

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English whittel (large knife), an alteration of thwitel, itself from thwiten (to whittle), from Old English þwītan (to strike down, whittle), from Proto-Germanic *þwītaną, from Proto-Indo-European *tweys- (to shake, hurl, toss). Compare Old Norse þveita (to hurl), Ancient Greek σείω (seíō, I shake). Related to thwite and thwaite.


whittle (plural whittles)

  1. A knife; especially, a pocket knife, sheath knife, or clasp knife.


whittle (third-person singular simple present whittles, present participle whittling, simple past and past participle whittled)

  1. (transitive or intransitive) To cut or shape wood with a knife.
    • 1851 November 14, Herman Melville, chapter X, in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers; London: Richard Bentley, OCLC 57395299:
      He was sitting on a bench before the fire, with his feet on the stove hearth, and in one hand was holding close up to his face that little negro idol of his; peering hard into its face, and with a jack-knife gently whittling away at its nose, meanwhile humming to himself in his heathenish way.
  2. (transitive) To reduce or gradually eliminate something (such as a debt).
  3. (transitive, figurative) To make eager or excited; to excite with liquor; to inebriate.
    • (Can we date this quote by Withals and provide title, author’s full name, and other details?)
      When men are well whittled, their tongues run at random.
Derived terms[edit]
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

Etymology 2[edit]

From an Old English [Term?] word for "white"; akin to an Icelandic word for a white bedcover.


whittle (plural whittles)

  1. (archaic) A coarse greyish double blanket worn by countrywomen, in the west of England, over the shoulders, like a cloak or shawl.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Charles Kingsley to this entry?)
  2. (archaic) A whittle shawl; a kind of fine woollen shawl, originally and especially a white one.


  • Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, Springfield, Massachusetts, G.&C. Merriam Co., 1967
  • whittle” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2020.
  • Oxford English Dictionary, 1884–1928, and First Supplement, 1933.