Can I Nitpick?

One of the most misused words in the English language is nitpick, which typically is used to mean being overly concerned with trivial or inconsequential details.

The problem with this usage is that actual nitpicking is anything but inconsequential. Nitpicking originally referred to the act of removing nits, which are the eggs of lice, from individual hairs in the host’s head. Prior to the development of delousing shampoo, it was the only method of controlling lice short of shaving one’s head completely. You can use a comb to get the active lice, but if you want to get at the eggs, you have to go through each hair individually. Each hair. Individually. And if you don’t do this job well, if you miss even one of little buggers, then the lice will return. So the act of nitpicking is not only slow, laborious, tiresome, and thankless; it is also absolutely essential.

So herewith a proposal: when not being used in its literal sense, nitpick henceforth shall refer to the act of performing a tedious and mildly unpleasant task with conscientious diligence.

Examples:

The software designer nitpicked through 3,000 lines of code before he found the fatal error.

After nitpicking the new jet engine design, our engineers found a weakness that could cause failure after 10,000 flight hours.

In nitpicking the manuscript, she found three typos, two sentences with missing words, and several instances of tense problems.

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2 Responses to Can I Nitpick?

  1. pt dismal says:

    what, are you safire now or something? the dictionary definition is being concerned with trivial details. you can’t argue with the dictionary, kamper. it is funny that you are getting all nitpicky about picking nits, though.

    ptd

  2. Pingback: Prometheus Unsound: In Space, No One Can Hear You Facepalm | Happy Valley News Hour

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