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hairsplitting

[hair-split-ing]
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noun
  1. the making of unnecessarily fine distinctions.
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adjective
  1. characterized by such distinctions: the hairsplitting arguments of a political debate.
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Origin of hairsplitting

First recorded in 1820–30; hair + splitting
Related formshair·split·ter, noun

Synonyms

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2. quibbling, niggling, nitpicking, captious.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for hair-splitting

hairsplitting

noun
  1. the making of petty distinctions
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adjective
  1. occupied with or based on petty distinctions
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Derived Formshairsplitter, noun
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

Word Origin and History for hair-splitting

n.

"making over-nice distinctions," by 1739, from hair + verbal noun from split (v.). To split hairs "make over-fine distinctions" is first recorded 1650s, as to cut the hair. Hair also being 18c. slang for "female pudendum," hair-splitter was noted in 1811 as slang for "penis."

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper