The Meaning of Wind Down: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever wondered what the term wind down means? This guide will give you all of the knowledge you need on the phrase wind down, including its meaning, origin, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What is the definition of wind down?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Cambridge Dictionary, amongst other dictionary apps, the term wind down is a phrasal verb that means either to draw gradually toward some end, or to relax and unwind. This word can be used either transitively or intransitively. A transitive verb is one that takes an action on some thing or person. For example, the term wind down can be transitive if someone says that they are going to begin to wind down their gym session. In this case the person might do some cooldown stretches, towel off and take a shower before heading home. 

The phrasal verb wind down can also be used intransitively. An intransitive verb does not take an action on some specific object. In this case, someone might shut their laptop for the day and decide to wind down. They could read a book, watch a show, or do anything else that helps them relax. Here, wind down is not used specifically on some object, but generally as an action. 

One can think of wind down like a clock spring, gradually unwinding as it slows down. A clock spring physically relaxes, which is why the metaphorical use of the term wind down makes sense when it is used with regard to relaxation. The next time you wind down after a long day, think of yourself as a little clock spring, once tightly wound, but now relaxed and at ease.

What is the origin of the term wind down?

According to Etymonline, the term wind down was first used in 1952 to mean to come to some conclusion. This likely stems from being the opposite of the phrase wind up, which was first used in 1825. The word wind is related to wend, which is also related to the word wander. The past tense and past participle forms of these words merged in Middle English. These stem from the Old English windan, meaning to turn or twist. Windan comes from the Proto-Germanic windan, meaning to wind. This comes from the root wendh, meaning to twist or weave, which is also the source of the Latin viere and Lithuanian vyti.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the term wind down?

Since the term wind down has two potential meanings, this means that it has two sets of synonyms. Synonyms are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase, and can be useful if you want to expand your vocabulary or if you want to avoid repeating yourself. This first set of synonyms is for the meaning to gradually come to an end. Both sets of synonyms are from Thesaurus

  • diminish
  • bate
  • lessen
  • dwindle
  • come to a point
  • thin
  • wane
  • abate
  • taper off
  • die away
  • narrow
  • close
  • taper
  • reduce
  • subside
  • thin out
  • fade
  • rescind
  • weaken
  • recede
  • die out
  • drain

This second set of synonyms, also from Thesaurus, uses the meaning of wind down to mean relax or unwind. 

  • make oneself at home
  • calm down
  • breathe easy
  • take it easy
  • collect oneself
  • chill out
  • kick back
  • take a load off
  • loosen up
  • feel at home
  • unwind
  • rest
  • recline
  • cool off
  • mellow out
  • catch one’s breath
  • lie down
  • take ten
  • take a breather
  • compose oneself
  • put one’s feet up
  • hang loose
  • sit back
  • take a break
  • sit around
  • settle back
  • relax

If someone wanted to use a word that is the opposite of wind down, they would use an antonym. An antonym is a word or phrase that has the opposite meaning of a given word or phrase. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • initiate
  • effect
  • found
  • bring to pass
  • produce
  • break ground
  • establish
  • prepare
  • embark on
  • begin
  • cause
  • lay foundation for
  • start
  • set up
  • activate
  • impel
  • originate
  • generate
  • occasion
  • give impulse
  • give birth to
  • open
  • lead
  • set in motion
  • get going
  • do
  • enter upon
  • commence
  • enter on
  • inaugurate
  • trigger
  • make
  • go into
  • drive
  • bring about
  • eventuate
  • create
  • plunge into
  • make active
  • institute
  • break the ice
  • go ahead
  • motivate
  • mount
  • instigate
  • launch
  • induce
  • undertake
  • introduce
  • actualize
  • set about 

How can the term wind down be used in a sentence?

The term wind down can either be used to mean to gradually draw to a close or to relax and unwind. In this first example, it will be used to mean to gradually decrease or stop. Darren and Kiely are discussing their club’s lack of popularity.

Darren: Kiely, I think it might be time to start winding down the Sherlock Holmes club.

Kiely: What?! What do you mean?  Thought you loved the club.

Darren: I do. But we’re the only two members, no one else is joining, and we’ve already read and watched everything Sherlock Holmes in existence. Face it, the rest of this school just isn’t into mysteries like you and I are.

Kiely: What if we expand the club? We don’t have to make it only Sherlock Holmes, we could make it murder mystery. Or classics.

Darren: I guess we can give it a shot.

In this next example, Kiely’s mom comes home from a long day of work.

Kiely: Welcome home!

Kiely’s Mom: Oof, I am ready to get these shoes off, take a bath, and wind down. 

Overall, the term wind down can either be used to mean to gradually come to a close or stop, or it can mean to relax and unwind. This verb can be used either transitively or intransitively, meaning that it has the option to either take action on some object or person, or to be used more generally.