Let's say you paid for a friend's bus ride, and he insists on paying you back rather than just let it be and stop worrying about it. You even find it rude on his part that he won't just forget about it. Is there an adjective or a phrase for such kind or a person, or for such kind of a behavior?

  • How about annoying? Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 17:45
  • 1
    If this is done in violation of the social conventions, I would call him bad-mannered. In some circles, letting small amounts of money go without accounting between friends is a matter of exhibiting some trust, and not going along would be considered bad manners.
    – F'x
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 19:23
  • 3
    I would call such a person "just like my sister."
    – kitukwfyer
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 19:41
  • I don't think there's going to be a word for this. Invariably sooner or later, either the person wanting to pay gives up, or the other person just accepts the money and is done with it… if both are being stubborn, then we need names for both. :-) Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 21:11
  • @ShreevatsaR: We have a name for the stubborn giver: 'passive aggressive' :-)
    – adj7388
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 21:40

10 Answers 10


Fastidious can have the sort of connotation I think you're looking for.

fas·tid·i·ous (adj.)

  1. Possessing or displaying careful, meticulous attention to detail.

  2. Difficult to please; exacting.

  3. Excessively scrupulous or sensitive, especially in matters of taste or propriety.

"He was the sort of guy who might ring you at 4 in the morning to repay sixpence; the chap was fastidious about his debts."

  • 5
    But it's the "4 in the morning" part that makes this annoying, not the repayment.
    – Klay
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 16:26

Perhaps punctilious would be the word you are looking for?

  • 2
    I don't think punctilious on its own has the desired negative connotation. You'd have to modify it with "overly" or "excessively" or some such.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 21:07

I would call such a person overly or obsessively proud, or possibly haughty.

But it would depend on the culture. Such a practice is considered normal in Japan, for example, where the concept of on (face) requires it.

  • 1
    +1 for "depends on the culture". To me, it's odd behaviour, but not inviting of any more judgment than "some people are just like that". I certainly wouldn't find it rude/haughty/whatever, just… special. Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 21:10
  • Thank you to the very informative reference to Japan - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_(sociological_concept) Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 7:38

I think the word stickler fits very well here, in the sense of a person who's obsessive about making sure customs and rules are followed to the letter. If I were to use it in a sentence, it would go something like this:

He was a stickler for making sure that even the smallest and most insignificant debt was repaid in full.

It carries a connotation of following a rule to the point of being slightly annoying about it.


I'd go for "stubbornly independent, even in the face of generosity".


I would say this person suffers from an aversion to generosity.

That's not an adjective, but I think the phenomenon may be too complex to boil down to a single word (cultural factors? fear of indebtedness? fear of not being able to return a kindness? feelings of inferiority? etc).

Maybe generosity averse? :)


I would call him a nitpicker, after revieing this I'm not sure whether it would be approriate: nitpicking


How about compulsively reciprocal?


Someone who is "anal retentive" is a good fit and conveys the speaker's annoyance quite effectively.

Wikipedia describes it thus:

The term anal retentive (also anally retentive), commonly abbreviated to anal, is used to describe a person who pays such attention to detail that the obsession becomes an annoyance to others, potentially to the detriment of the anal-retentive person. .

  • Also known as a pain in the arse (UK) or ... ass (US).
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jun 29, 2013 at 12:09

Many Danes are familiar with a concept that also seems to be in play in the case of the OP's obsessive debt-repayer. They call it millimeterdemokrati ("millimetre democracy").

It is typified by phenomena such as the scrupulous analysis of a restaurant bill to calculate who owes how much, the maintaining of a log in order to track whose turn it is to wipe down the fridge door or rinse the tea cups, and the cutting of a cake into slices of precisely equal size (with the help of kitchen scales, in the worst case). You could say that individuals afflicted with this impulse are applying an ethos of egalitarian reciprocity/responsibility taken to an extreme degree.

(I hasten to add that most Danes are not quite this silly.)

Looking over the other suggested names for this attitude, I don't think any of them quite capture the nitpicking quality of millimetre democracy at its finest.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.