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pettifog

[pet-ee-fog, -fawg]
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verb (used without object), pet·ti·fogged, pet·ti·fog·ging.
  1. to bicker or quibble over trifles or unimportant matters.
  2. to carry on a petty, shifty, or unethical law business.
  3. to practice chicanery of any sort.
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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 formspet·ti·fog·ger, nounpet·ti·fog·ger·y, noun
Can be confusedambulance chaser mouthpiece pettifogger shyster
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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


British Dictionary definitions for pettifogger

pettifogger

noun
  1. a lawyer of inferior status who conducts unimportant cases, esp one who is unscrupulous or resorts to trickery
  2. any person who quibbles or fusses over details
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Derived Formspettifoggery, noun

Word Origin

C16: from petty + fogger, of uncertain origin, perhaps from Fugger, name of a family (C15–16) of German financiers

pettifog

verb -fogs, -fogging or -fogged
  1. (intr) to be a pettifogger
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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

Word Origin and History for pettifogger

n.

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper