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[pet-ee-fog, -fawg] /ˈpɛt iˌfɒg, -ˌfɔg/
verb (used without object), pettifogged, pettifogging.
to bicker or quibble over trifles or unimportant matters.
to carry on a petty, shifty, or unethical law business.
to practice chicanery of any sort.
Origin of pettifog
1605-15; back formation from pettifogger, equivalent to petty + fogger < Middle Low German voger or Middle Dutch voeger one who arranges things; akin to Old English gefōg a joining
Related forms
pettifogger, noun
pettifoggery, noun
Can be confused Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for pettifogger
Historical Examples
  • Bear witness, I pray you all,” said the pettifogger, “as to what the knave called me.

    The Sleeping Bard Ellis Wynne
  • I never said you were a pettifogger, or a scoundrel; but I did say you were little Else.

    The Jest Book Mark Lemon
  • He was a pettifogger; their (the Smiths') cat-paw to do their dirty work.

    The Story of the Mormons William Alexander Linn
  • Now which was the best pedigree, that of the son of the pastry-cook, or that of the son of the pettifogger?

    The Romany Rye George Borrow
  • Now, which was the best pedigree, that of the son of the pastry-cook, or that of the son of the pettifogger?

    The Romany Rye George Borrow
  • Anything can be proved by two false witnesses—thinks the pettifogger.

    Plays--First Series August Strindberg
  • In the first place, the pettifogger made a large haul for his services.

  • He is akin to the street boy in his habits, and to the pettifogger by fate.

    Colonel Chabert Honore de Balzac
  • My opponent was what was known in the States as a pettifogger.

    Memoirs of Orange Jacobs Orange Jacobs
  • He perhaps mistakes me for what you call a—a pettifogger, is it not?

    A Daughter of the Dons William MacLeod Raine
British Dictionary definitions for pettifogger


a lawyer of inferior status who conducts unimportant cases, esp one who is unscrupulous or resorts to trickery
any person who quibbles or fusses over details
Derived Forms
pettifoggery, noun
Word Origin
C16: from petty + fogger, of uncertain origin, perhaps from Fugger, name of a family (C15–16) of German financiers


verb -fogs, -fogging, -fogged
(intransitive) to be a pettifogger
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 pettifogger

1560s, from petty; the second element possibly from obsolete Dutch focker, from Flemish focken "to cheat," or from cognate Middle English fugger, from Fugger the renowned family of merchants and financiers of 15c.-16c. Augsburg. In German, Flemish and Dutch, the name became a word for "monopolist, rich man, usurer."

A 'petty Fugger' would mean one who on a small scale practices the dishonourable devices for gain popularly attributed to great financiers; it seems possible that the phrase 'petty fogger of the law,' applied in this sense to some notorious person, may have caught the popular fancy. [OED first edition, in a rare burst of pure speculation]
However, OED also calls attention to pettifactor "legal agent who undertakes small cases" (1580s), which, though attested slightly later, might be the source of this. Related: Pettifoggery.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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