Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM
Fri Nov 5 16:32:23 UTC 1999

Scott Catledge <scplc at GS.VERIO.NET> wrote:

"Ticky" and "nitpicky" were synonyms in 1940's in north Florida.  I did not
know what a nit was until 1948 when I read John Brown's explanation of why
he murdered all the children of slave-owners that he could, "Nits make

Hmm, I've heard (or more likely read) the saying as "nits will be lice".
Specifically, a nits is "the egg or young of a parasitic insect, such as a
louse" (_Am.Herit.Dict._). So nit-picking is: going through someone's hair (or
fur), often literally with a fine-tooth comb, and picking out the nits to
prevent a new generation of lice. (As far as I know.)

I've never heard of parasitic gnats; maybe the word was used more loosely, or
(more likely, IMHO) alliteration trumped entomology.

-- Mark

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