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[kav-uh l] /ˈkæv əl/
verb (used without object), caviled, caviling or (especially British) cavilled, cavilling.
to raise irritating and trivial objections; find fault with unnecessarily (usually followed by at or about):
He finds something to cavil at in everything I say.
verb (used with object), caviled, caviling or (especially British) cavilled, cavilling.
to oppose by inconsequential, frivolous, or sham objections:
to cavil each item of a proposed agenda.
a trivial and annoying objection.
the raising of such objections.
Origin of cavil
1540-50; < Latin cavillārī to jeer, scoff, quibble, verbal derivative of cavilla jesting, banter
Related forms
caviler; especially British, caviller, noun
cavilingly; especially British, cavillingly, adverb
outcavil, verb (used with object), outcaviled, outcaviling or (especially British) outcavilled, outcavilling.
uncaviling, adjective
uncavilling, adjective
1. carp, complain, criticize. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for cavilling
Historical Examples
  • History does not record the result, beyond a cavilling incrimination about a diamond-headed cane.

    The New Germany George Young
  • I have no taste for cavilling or grumbling over events that are past.

    Khartoum Campaign, 1898 Bennet Burleigh
  • On this fantastic plane he could freely enmesh the whole universe in his net of intriguing, cavilling, and petty oppression.

    A Family of Noblemen Mikhal Saltykov
  • But the moment we pass the portal all cavilling is awed to silence.

    Northern Spain Edgar T. A. Wigram
  • It accepts what is given without question, or cavilling as to much or to little, leaving the giver altogether free.

    The Far Horizon Lucas Malet
  • I do think, dear, you are only cavilling and making difficulties.

    A Likely Story William De Morgan
  • Which difference Plato in his discussion of Ideas more fully declaring, has thereby afforded Colotes an opportunity of cavilling.

  • "Shadow-boxing," he observed in a cavilling spirit to his companion.

    The Adventures of Sally P. G. Wodehouse
  • Carp′er, one who carps or cavils; Carp′ing, cavilling: fault-finding.

  • A man's life was a man's life, and what was the use of cavilling at facts!

    Cape of Storms Percival Pollard
British Dictionary definitions for cavilling


verb -ils, -illing, -illed (US) -ils, -iling, -iled
(intransitive; foll by at or about) to raise annoying petty objections; quibble; carp
a captious trifling objection
Derived Forms
caviller, noun
cavilling, adjective
Word Origin
C16: from Old French caviller, from Latin cavillārī to jeer, from cavilla raillery
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for cavilling



1540s, from Middle French caviller "to mock, jest," from Latin cavillari "to jeer, mock; satirize, argue scoffingly" (also source of Italian cavillare, Spanish cavilar), from cavilla "jest, jeering," related to calumnia (see calumny).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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