After being reproved for doing so myself on SO yesterday. I realized that over the last couple of years the meaning of the expression OCD, seems to have deflated. Up to the point where people(read I) mostly associate it with pet peeves like the price of a fill up at a petrol station and the amount of litres, not both being round or misaligned street tiles.

It is obviously very useful since most of us can relate to this feeling to some degree. However, in a slightly more formal context like SE, this obviously is not an appropriate word to use since its trivialises a very serious affliction and therefore might be hurtful to people suffering from real OCD.

What would be a viable alternative in a context like this?

  • 9
    My son says "I have CDO. It's OCD only in alphabetical order, the way it should be." (Consider saying "I'm maybe being a bit obsessive," or simply "It peeves me that...".)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 12:03
  • 7
    (This isn't a phenomenon of "the last couple of years". "OCD" has been used in a jocular sense for 20 years, at least.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 12:21
  • What @HotLicks says is right, OCD's not a new thing, it's just recieved more media attention in recent years because the TV corporations have realised that programs like 'Hoarders' and 'Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners' get good ratings.
    – Pharap
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 11:46

8 Answers 8


The cheapening of psychiatric terms is not restricted to OCD, look at what has happened to "psychopath". (Where I used to live, it has come to be identical with "ex-husband".)

As HotLicks says, we can go to its root with "obsessive", or if exercised on language (if the cap fits, wear it) we have "pedantic". In general, "niggly" and "picky". Area51's "fussy" can also be a noun, namely "fusspot", which I think our grandparents would have used for the people you have in mind.

You might like to speed-read Jane Austen for what she called ladies who absolutely had to have their toast just so, or early Hollywood biographies for stars who went postal if towels were wrongly laid out.

  • 2
    Pedantic is a good work, but why do you suggest it's specific to issues regarding language?
    – Rikki
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 8:30
  • @Rikki: Because I think that's the principal application. OK, I could get pedantic about details of 12th century history, honest, but where?
    – David Pugh
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 8:57
  • A pedant is "a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning." (Google) Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons is a classic pedant. He is probably obsessive about his collection, keeping every issue carefully wrapped in plastic and in exact order, but becomes pedantic when expounding on his vast knowledge of minutiae. Commented May 27, 2015 at 1:57

Fussy could serve the purpose.

too concerned or worried about details or standards, especially unimportant ones



I suppose you could use anal, for someone who has an obsessive attention to detail but I'd say that's stronger than just being fussy.

Source: The Free Dictionary

  • Mhm, if you take the examples into account. Would you consider those anal personality traits?
    – laurisvr
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 13:54
  • A definition of anal personality at Dictionary.com includes "excessive orderliness, extreme meticulousness", so I believe these two apply to both your examples.
    – Nobilis
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 13:58
  • 1
    Yes I saw that. And it made me wonder. Since I wouldn't normally think that this is the best suited word for the occasion. However, I might be wrong.
    – laurisvr
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 14:06
  • 7
    Of course, "anal" refers to the "anal-retentive" psychological trait (which my college psych prof explained fits the librarian who is not happy unless all the books in the library are neatly lined up on the shelves), so it's treading some of the same ground as "OCD". That said, it's not unusual to hear someone say, eg, "Don't be so anal."
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 16:01
  • 2
    @Hot Licks: well, I guess the difference is that OCD is currently a medically recognized disorder, while "anal-retentive" is part of a mostly discarded system of psychoanalysis, so nobody can be diagnosed with the latter.
    – herisson
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 8:59

I love the word "pernickety" (which is an alternative form of "persnickety"):


overparticular; fussy

Source: Dictionary.com

Mr. Pernickety

Mr. Pernickety from the Mr. Men series

  • Pernickety is not a derivation of persnickety: it’s the other way around. (At least, the latter is attested earlier than the former.) Commented May 20, 2015 at 21:36
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet: Was that meant to be persnickety or did it just come out that way? Commented May 27, 2015 at 2:00
  • @Chellspecker If I were the spernickety type, I’d answer your question with the word “Yes”. ;-) Commented May 27, 2015 at 2:02
  • The fact that I'm commenting on this website confirms that I too am of the per(s)nickety persuasion. Commented May 27, 2015 at 2:11
  • +1 for "overparticular". It takes the mildly derisive edge off of "fussy"
    – pseudosudo
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 1:33

The symptoms associated with the trivial use of "OCD" tend to match the definition of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). Rephrasing the DSM-5 definition of OCPD gives several words for describing aspects of OCPD.

  1. Legalistic; preoccupied with rules so as to lose the point of an activity.
  2. Perfectionist; letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  3. Workaholic; devotes self to work to the exclusion of leisure.
  4. Purist, scrupulous, or inflexible about ethics, beyond what's expected from culture or religion.
  5. Hoarder of goods; will not discard what fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien called mathoms, things one keeps but does not use.
  6. Micromanager; delegates tasks only when the patient can be certain that they will be completed to the slightest detail.
  7. Miserly, stingy, or niggardly; hoarding money "for a rainy day".
  8. Rigid or stubborn.

Also consider the word fastidious, which Wiktionary defines as "Excessively particular, demanding, or fussy about details, especially about tidiness and cleanliness."

  • Actually I think fastidious is an excellent example:). Especially for the everyday use. If always remembers me of the seinfeld episode the Pothole. GEORGE: Finicky? Prissy? Fastidious? JERRY: I'll take fastidious.
    – laurisvr
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 7:12
  • @laurisvr Actually finicky would also be a valid option I think:)
    – laurisvr
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 7:13

My wife says, "Are you Monk?" though that might fade from public consciousness since the show finished.

I think the TV show has made such affectations more readily shown in front of others, and seen as endearing rather than "strange".


Being annoyed by misaligned tiles on the floor is perfectionism, the preference for perfection or some ideal. Such a person is a perfectionist, not suffering from OCD.

When your desire for perfection adversely affects your behavior, i.e. you are mentally unable to will yourself to enter a room because you saw one of the tiles on its floor is misaligned, then you might want to talk to a professional because you might actually suffer from OCD.


neurotic fits pretty well.

Google result

  • Hi Peter and welcome to ELU. This is a great answer, but you should consider adding a definition to it instead of a link.
    – Dog Lover
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 11:41
  • Interestingly this also is a clinical term. Although it's not so much a disorder, but more of a symptom.
    – laurisvr
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 7:17

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