Merriam Webster Word of the Day: Wheedle

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is wheedle. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Wheedle means “to use soft words or flattery,” usually for the purpose of persuading someone to do something or to give you something. It is often used disapprovingly, and is frequently followed by the word into, as in “wheedle one’s way into favor.”

// The sales clerk tried to wheedle us into spending more money than we wanted.

// We managed to wheedle the juicy details about her date out of her.

WHEEDLE in Context

“In the book [Françoise Gilot] recalls a moment when Claude, a small boy, pleaded to be allowed into her studio. Loitering just outside her door, he wheedled, ‘I love you, Mama.’ No luck. He liked her painting, he told her, adding after a time, ‘It’s better than Papa’s.’ At that, she weakened and welcomed him inside.” — Ruth La Ferla, The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2022

Did You Know?

Wheedle has been a part of the English lexicon since the mid-17th century, though no one is quite sure how it wheedled its way in. (It has been suggested that the term may have come from the Old English word wǽdlian, which meant “to beg,” but this is far from certain.) Be careful not to confuse wheedle with the similar-sounding weasel. While both words are applied in situations in which someone is trying to persuade another person, weasel is especially apt in cases in which the persuader is being clever or dishonest in their efforts, while wheedle always specifically involves soft words and flattery.

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