Today's "winnow" originally described something you do with grain to purify it: letting the wind blow through it so that the smaller particles would blow away. (Yes, the word winnow is based on the word wind.)
Sticking to this agrarian theme, could you recall the word that originally described picking up any ears of corn that were left behind by the reapers? Today it's used figuratively to mean to gather things up, bit by bit.
make your point with...
To winnow is to get rid of the parts of something you don't want so that you're left only with the parts you do want.
Part of speech:
You can winnow something,
or you can winnow something away,
winnow something out,
or winnow something from something else.
How to use it:
Talk about winnowing something: either literally (like grain, tea, or coffee berries) or figuratively (like a list or a group of things).
Another way to phrase that same idea is "to winnow something down:" "to winnow the list of candidates from ten down to two," "to winnow the best essays down to a single winner."
You can also winnow something away: "winnow away the typos," "winnow the unqualified candidates away."
And, you can winnow something out: "winnow out the cheesy and boring parts of the novel during the editing stage."
Lastly, you can winnow (out) something from something else: "winnow the spammy stuff from the real job postings," "winnow out the junk mail from the stuff I need to actually open."
As a teenager, I actively tried to build up my wardrobe. Now I try to winnow it. I want to own the fewest items possible.
She could have winnowed out 80% of this mess and turned a dull novel into an interesting short story.
study it now:
Look away from the screen to explain the definition in your own words. You’ll know you understand what "winnow" means when you can explain it without saying "eliminate the junk" or "get rid of what you don't want."
try it out:
Think of a time you were overwhelmed by options, and fill in the blank: "I wasn't sure how to start winnowing down the list of _____."
Example: "At the Silver Diner, where they're really big on farm-to-table dishes and they offer a zillion of them, I wasn't even sure how to start winnowing down the list of entrees."
before you review:
Spend at least 20 seconds occupying your mind with the game and quote below. Then try the review questions. Don’t go straight to the review now—let your working memory empty out first.
Playing With Words:
We're playing with clichés this month, examining the origins of some colorful ones. I’ll give you a cliché (some of which you might also call a proverb and/or an idiom) and pose a multiple-choice question about its origin. (I used this nifty book as a reference!)
Yesterday's question: A “captain of industry” is an important person in the world of business. Was this cliché created by an American investor, a Scottish writer, or a Swedish psychologist?
Answer: Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish writer, created that term in his 1843 book Past and Present.
Try this one today: Tell people to “hitch their wagon to a star” and you’re telling them to set high goals. Who originated this phrase: was it William Shakespeare; Meriwether Lewis, the explorer and politician; or Ralph Waldo Emerson, the essayist and poet?
A Point Well Made:
Friedrich Nietzsche: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
review today's word:
1. The opposite of WINNOW is
A. REDUCE A PORTION
B. DIVIDE INTO PORTIONS
C. MAINTAIN THE ENTIRE PORTION
2. _____ tends to winnow your job opportunities.
A. A flexible command of language B. Wise networking
C. Having no college degree
Answers are below.
a final word:
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Disclaimer: Word meanings presented here are expressed in plain language and are limited to common, useful applications only. Readers interested in authoritative and multiple definitions of words are encouraged to check a dictionary. Likewise, word meanings, usage, and pronunciations are limited to American English; these elements may vary across world Englishes.
Answers to review questions:
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