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informal tending to raise petty objections; pernickety
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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


What does nit-picky mean?

Nit-picky is an informal way to describe someone who is overly focused on tiny, unimportant details, especially when criticizing something. It can also be used to describe such criticism.

Nitpick (or nit-pick) is a verb meaning to point out the very minor flaws or mistakes in something, or to criticize it in this way. Nit-picky turns this action into an adjective. It is sometimes seen without a hyphen (nitpicky).

Example: Mrs. Jones is always so nit-picky when she grades our English papers—she takes points off for word choices that aren’t even mistakes!

Where does nit-picky come from?

The first records of the word nitpick come from the mid-1900s, and nit-picky is first recorded in the 1960s. Nits are the eggs or young of lice. They are extremely tiny and hard to see with the naked eye. To pick nits out of someone’s hair is extremely tedious (or painstaking, if you’re being nit-picky about it).

Of course, it’s important to pick nits out of hair. But someone who’s described as nit-picky isn’t picking out important things. They’re pointing out tiny mistakes or criticizing small things, often simply to complain or show that they’ve noticed them. There are other, more neutral ways to describe someone who is very particular about things, such as saying that they’re meticulous or exacting. But nit-picky is always used in a negative way.

Someone who’s nit-picky cares a little too much about things that other people probably won’t even notice or consider to be a problem. It seems like nothing is ever perfect for a nit-picky person—they find something wrong in anything that’s presented to them, so they’re often also thought of as pessimistic. The word tends to be used in situations where things are presented for review or criticism. An editor’s changes might be considered nit-picky if they’re about very minor issues. A boss or teacher might be called nit-picky (behind their back) if they manage to find “mistakes” in every project or piece of work.

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What are some other forms of nit-picky?

What are some synonyms for nit-picky?

What are some words that share a root or word element with nit-picky?

What are some words that often get used in discussing nit-picky?

How is nit-picky used in real life?

Nit-picky is very informal and is always used negatively, especially in contexts where people examine little details.



Try using nit-picky!

Is nit-picky used correctly in the following sentence?

James called Kim nit-picky after she listed every single little thing that they got wrong in the historical movie.

How to use nit-picky in a sentence