Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nit


Jeff wrote to say that he gets the meaning of “Gotcha Journalism,” but wonders about related charges of nitpicking coming from conservative politicians.

Nitpickers are said to make a big deal out of minor issues. Lacking major complaints, they quibble over insignificant items. Originally, a nit was the egg of a parasitic insect like the louse. Later, by extension, it referred to the parasite itself.

Shakespeare used the word nit to designate an insignificant, inconsequential, and contemptible person.

  • Love's Labour's Lost, iv. i. 146: “And his Page . Ah heauens, it is most patheticall nit.”
  • Taming of the Shrew, iv. iii. 109: “Thou Flea, thou Nit, thou winter cricket, thou.”

Eventually, the term hit America. Humorist George Ade once wrote, “I don't read Books. I am an Intellectual Nit.”

Nit also shows up in nitwit, defined as a stupid, foolish, or idiotic person. Wit refers to the mind, the seat of cognition. The first citation mentioned in the OED is from The Los Angeles Times, 5 June 14: “After her trip to Virginia Miss Helen Morton was quoted as saying that Chicago men were ‘nit wits’.”


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