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[hair-split-ing] /ˈhɛərˌsplɪt ɪŋ/
the making of unnecessarily fine distinctions.
characterized by such distinctions:
the hairsplitting arguments of a political debate.
Origin of hairsplitting
1820-30; hair + splitting
Related forms
hairsplitter, noun
2. quibbling, niggling, nitpicking, captious. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for hair-splitting
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • After the world of politics, with its hair-splitting and word-mincing, it was good to be with soldiers—the men who do the work.

    The Relief of Mafeking Filson Young
  • I know your hair-splitting habit; I at once anticipate your reply.

  • To those who oppose him in political matters he is prepared, without any hair-splitting, to give a regular good wigging all round.

  • But he disliked the corrupt method of his countrymen, who indulged in hair-splitting, casuistry, and subtleties.

  • We should have no sort of use for the hair-splitting experts who presided and argued in your courts.

    Looking Backward Edward Bellamy
  • The man who goes to law surrenders his liberty of action and becomes the sport of chicaning lawyers and hair-splitting judges.

    Mr. Fortescue William Westall
  • It requires "hair-splitting" to measure a millionth part of an inch, and in certain cases it is worth while.

    Sketches of the Covenanters J. C. McFeeters
  • It will not be worth our while to wade through all the technical and hair-splitting discussions of these points.

  • The period of pedantry, of hair-splitting, of slavery to mere technicalities, came very late in Jewish history.

    The Astronomy of the Bible E. Walter Maunder
British Dictionary definitions for hair-splitting


the making of petty distinctions
occupied with or based on petty distinctions
Derived Forms
hairsplitter, 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
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Word Origin and History for hair-splitting

"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."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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