"Nitpicky" (was RE: "Virtuous circle")

Tue Nov 2 12:06:20 UTC 1999

Nitpicky (or nit-picky) brings up an interesting subject.  I agree that
this term should be included in dictionaries that attempt to establish
a record of English (i.e. big dictionaries and their supplements
[nitpicky is in W3 Addenda Sect.).  It is perhaps a new term, however
its appearance back to 1980 in Nexis is not particularly definitive.
It was in 1980, after all that Nexis began to aggressively expand.  My
suspicion is that nitpicky is rather older, perhaps as old as nitpicker
and nitpick.

In addition, one could make a case that its entry in college
dictionaries is really unnecessary, as in  MW10th and Encarta.  It is
the product of a fairly straightforward suffix, -y, which can be
attached to form a fairly transparent derivative rather in the same way
that -ness and -ish do so freely on almost any word.  Some words formed
in this way are quite legitimately main entries in college
dictionaries.  But those which are relegated to run-on status do little
more than say this term has been found.  Run-on status is often just a
device to increase the entry count of a dictionary.

David K. Barnhart
barnhart at highlands.com

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