Part of speech:
Both a noun ("the hairsplitting," "nothing but hairsplitting," "an exercise in hairsplitting") and an adjective ("hairsplitting disagreement," "hairsplitting pickiness.")
Imagine taking a teeny-tiny hair and splitting it into two or more even teenier parts. Hairsplitting is the abstract version of doing that:
Hairsplitting is the process of making detailed differences that are unimportant. And, something hairsplitting is related to those very slight differences that just don't matter.
hairsplitter, "to split hairs," "splitting hairs"
How to use it:
For the noun, talk about the hairsplitting, nothing but hairsplitting, an exercise in hairsplitting, a silly argument full of hairsplitting, and so on. You can have hairsplitting over something, especially hairsplitting over the use of certain words, and you can say that something amounts to hairsplitting or that something is simply hairsplitting, just hairsplitting, etc.
For the adjective, talk about a hairsplitting difference, a hairsplitting distinction, a hairsplitting definition, a hairsplitting disagreement, a hairsplitting debate, a hairsplitting question, a hairsplitting demand, a hairsplitting insistence, hairsplitting pickiness, hairsplitting fussiness, and so on.
Sheldon, from The Big Bang Theory, is an incorrigible hairsplitter who instantly corrects his friends when they say anything that's technically incorrect.
To my extreme frustration, I had a classmate who believed that every word included in a listing in the thesaurus was a perfectly acceptable substitute for the one he originally had written, and he dismissed my claims otherwise as hairsplitting. I suppose he's still writing things like "The supposal has divers handicaps" instead of "The theory has several problems."
Look away from the screen to explain the definition in your own words. You’ll know you understand what "hairsplitting” means when you can explain it without saying “insisting on fine distinctions” or “pointing out insignificant differences."
Think of a time you couldn't see any important difference between two things, and fill in the blanks: "I guess _____ is/are not exactly the same as _____, but it's just hairsplitting to me; they're both _____."
Example: "I guess Candidate A is not exactly the same as Candidate B, but it's just hairsplitting to me; they're both spouting vague promises about identical goals."
Spend at least 20 seconds occupying your mind with the game and quote below. Then try the review questions. Don’t go straight to the review now—let your working memory empty out first.
Playing With Words:
Our game for May is: “What Do These Words Have in Common?”
The three words given will have something specific in common. (More than one right answer might be possible, but I've only got one particular answer in mind for each set of words.) I've arranged the questions from easiest to hardest, so today’s should be moderately difficult. By the end of the month, expect some whoppers.
What do these words have in common?: recognize, diagnosis, incognito
Answer: All are related to the Latin or Greek root meaning “knowledge.”
Try this one today: baggage, treated, stewardesses
A Point Well Made:
James Garfield: “If the power to do hard work is not a skill, it is the best possible substitute for it."
1. The opposite of HAIRSPLITTING is
2. Can we please just let go of the hairsplitting _____?
A. habit of taking endless selfies
B. need for well-manicured lawns
C. difference between "farther" and "further"
Answers are below.
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Disclaimer: Word meanings presented here are expressed in plain language and are limited to common, useful applications only. Readers interested in authoritative and multiple definitions of words are encouraged to check a dictionary. Likewise, word meanings, usage, and pronunciations are limited to American English; these elements may vary across world Englishes.
Answers to review questions:
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