I am looking for a verb (or a phrase) to describe a situation that someone criticizes you in an annoying and constant way. For example, an elder in your family (mostly in conservative environments) might criticize your outfit or your make-up. The following is an example conversation between a mother and daughter:

Mother: You young people! Really, you do not respect anything. I do not know what has happened to you. At least, you should have cut your hair.

Child: Mom don't start inquiring again, please. What is wrong with my hair?

Persian word for this is "گیر دادن" (prounced /gIr daadan/), where /gIr/ means gripping, scraping, sticking to, etc. I hope this helps to clarify what I mean.

I have used inquire as in inquisition, but I want a better modern-day alternative if any.

  • 7
    Colloquially we don't actually use inquire in the sense "subject to an inquisition". The closest you'd get today might be a whimsical Mom, don't give me the Spanish Inquisition again, please. Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 12:54
  • 5
    I like "nagging" the best, but "harping on" is also appropriate. One can also use harassing or pestering, which generally implies a longevity to the annoyance.
    – dberm22
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 16:43
  • 1
    Your mother is being a "mother hen".
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 19:56
  • 2
    Did you mean: gripping (firmly holding the attention or interest; exciting) or griping (express a complaint or grumble about something, especially something trivial)?
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 15:10
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    If you're a really cool cat you could go for something like "Hey mom, quit harshing my vibe", you could then go on to quote the classic comedy film Withnail and I and explain that "Hair are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly into the brain. This is the reason bald-headed men are uptight."
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 21:58

23 Answers 23


(of a person) constantly harassing someone to do something.

"Mom don't start nagging again, please."

  • 2
    There are many alternatives (beef, bitch, bleat, carp, fuss, moan,...) but this is probably the best one for a learner to start with. Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 12:49
  • 5
    Also "needling", which is similar but invokes the obvious metaphor of poking needless holes in things with a needle.
    – Ketura
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 15:45
  • 3
    This is probably the best choice for context - "nagging" is culturally associated with the example of a mother criticizing their child's choices, exactly in the way that OP gave as an example.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 16:00
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    Nagging requests are repeated by the nag and ignored for a time by the recipient, but the implication is that the request will eventually fulfilled (to stop the nagging). I do not think it's as strong of a word choice for observations that will not be fulfilled by the recipient, such as general and constant "moral criticisms of today's youth by elders" from the Question.
    – pkamb
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 18:21
  • 3
    I've never heard of the implication that any action will be taken to stop the nagging - you might do what they ask to stop the nagging, but just as likely you'll dismiss their request as 'nagging'.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 18:34

I like harping, meaning to repeat the same criticism over and over again to the annoyance of its target or recipient.

Mom, why must you keep harping on the length of my hair?

"Harping" is perhaps a tad disrespectful, considering you are talking to your mom, but you could soften the word nonverbally in a variety of ways.


Condescend or condescending (verb / adjective)

Having or showing an attitude of patronizing superiority.

Ref: Google Dictionary

Your original example:

"You young people! Really, you do not respect anything. I do not know what has happened to you. You should have at least cut your hair".
"Mom don't start inquiring again, please. What is wrong with my hair?"

You could re-write like so:

You young people! Really, you do not respect anything. I do not know what has happened to you. You should have at least cut your hair.

Mom don't condescend again, please. What is wrong with my hair?

or (more typically):

You young people! Really, you do not respect anything. I do not know what has happened to you. You should have at least cut your hair.

Mom don't be so condescending, please. What is wrong with my hair?



From MW dictionary:

Simple Definition of lecture : a talk that criticizes someone's behavior in an angry or serious way

Examples of lecture in a sentence:

I came home late and got a lecture from my parents.

They lectured their children about the importance of honesty.

I lectured her about doing better in school.

  • 1
    @k1eran Might want to fix the formatting; I found myself wondering why "informal dressing-down" was offered instead of just "dressing-down."
    – Casey
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 14:41
  • +1. Also the dictionary definition of lecture has some synonyms for this usage that may be worth considering e.g. :scolding, chiding, reprimand, rebuke,reproof, reproach, remonstration, upbra‌​iding, berating, castigation,tirade, diatribe, harangue, admonition, admonishment,‌​lambasting, obloquy; (informal) dressing-down, telling-off,talking-to, tongue-lashing; (informal) rocket, wigging – k1eran 23 hours ago
    – k1eran
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 18:27
  • Above comment removed/re-added in light of Casey's feedback
    – k1eran
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 18:28

This person is nitpicking:

looking for small or unimportant errors or faults, especially in order to criticize unnecessarily.

"a nitpicking legalistic exercise"

fussy fault-finding.

"nitpicking over tiny details"



From the Free Dictionary:

v. chid·ed or chid (chĭd), chid·ed or chid or chid·den (chĭd′n), chid·ing, chides v.tr. To scold mildly so as to correct or improve; reprimand: chided the boy for his sloppiness.

Or as in your example:

Mom don't start chiding me again, please. What is wrong with my hair?

It fits in the criticizing juniors sense, as rarely would you hear someone say they chided their superior. You wouldn't expect a kid to chide their mother, or an employee to chide their boss normally, but a kid may nag their mom for attention, or a nagging employee may constantly be asking the boss for more resources.



UK /ˈpæt.rə.naɪz/ US /ˈpeɪ.trə.naɪz/

to speak to or behave towards someone as if they are stupid or not important
(Cambridge English Dictionary)

  • Being patronizing generally involves false or affected encouragement/agreement. Given OP's example, the word wouldn't sit well there: "Mom, don't start patronizing me again..." in response to being ordered to cut your hair?
    – kolossus
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 13:16

I think the word "chastise" fits well here.



rebuke or reprimand severely. "he chastised his colleagues for their laziness"

(from Google definitions)

  • Welcome to the English stack exchange! I'm not sure if "chastise" meets the specified criteria of the act being annoying.
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 22:26

It depends on the speaker's intent.

If it's being spoken by someone who may think they're doing a good thing by giving the advice, nagging is a good choice. It fits the example above of a mother speaking down to her daughter.

But if the speaker's intent is more hostile, and they are trying to make the junior person feel smaller, inferior, or insignificant; the action might be called belittling or berating. These words might be applied in a hostile work environment where a supervisor is frequently pointing out mistakes in a worker, perhaps in order to make the worker less likely to ask for a raise. They may also do it out of fear to prevent the subordinate from being promoted and taking over the supervisor's job.

  • 1
    Belittle is the first thing I thought of. To me it conveys "criticism" (per OP) more explicitly than "nagging", which may be a continual reminder without being critical.
    – brichins
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 20:37
  • +1, a million if I could. nag is easily the best colloquial word for this. I've never heard ANY of the other suggestions used in real speech (except "bitching", but some wouldn't consider that appropriate when speaking to their mother).
    – user428517
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 22:32

Perhaps “grousing?”

The context is often that the complaint is petty or presented in a way that annoys others.

"Mom don't start grousing again, please. What is wrong with my hair?"


To preach

In sense #6 here:

To give earnest advice, as on religious or moral subjects or the like, in an obtrusive or tedious way.


Mom don't start preaching again, please. What is wrong with my hair?



Definition from dictionary.com:

verb (used with object) 4. (lowercase) to treat with insolence; bully; torment: The teacher hectored his students incessantly.

verb (used without object) 5. (lowercase) to act in a blustering, domineering way; be a bully.


Scutch is a word used in Great Britain which means to beat, specifically to beat flax fibers as part of processing into cloth. However in my wife's Irish-American family, it's used exactly to mean "criticize annoyingly." I'm always looking for other examples of the word used in this way.

  • 1
    How interesting! We use scutch in Persian and Turkish to refer to a rough piece of cloth used in washing dishes. I had never thought about its root. Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 18:09
  • Thanks @JasonStack for that interesting tidbit, sounds like the word would have to go all the way back to proto-indo-european then! Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 18:41

Because of the example and the Persian translation you gave, I suggest grating. It has similar multiple meanings:

verb (used without object), grated, grating.

  1. to have an irritating or unpleasant effect: His constant chatter grates on my nerves.
  2. to make a sound of, or as if of, rough scraping; rasp.
  3. to sound harshly; jar: to grate on the ear.
  4. to scrape or rub with rough or noisy friction, as one thing on or against another.

verb (used with object), grated, grating.

  1. to reduce to small particles by rubbing against a rough surface or a surface with many sharp-edged openings: to grate a carrot.
  2. to rub together with a harsh, jarring sound: to grate one's teeth.
  3. to irritate or annoy.
  4. Archaic. to wear down or away by rough friction.

While I think this word is a closer match, I concede that nagging is used more commonly (+1).

  • 1
    Grating does describe the annoying nature of the criticism, but note that grate doesn't mean criticize. You couldn't say Mom, don't start grating on me... It wouldn't mean "Don't start criticizing me," it would mean "Don't start annoying me," and it also wouldn't sound right because grating on (in the sense of annoying) is not something normally done intentionally.
    – LarsH
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 13:52
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    I agree, but the same could be said for nagging (criticizing is nagging, but nagging isn't necessarily criticizing). I conceded that nagging is probably a better conversational choice here, but was offering grating as the closest translation.
    – Gracie
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 15:12


My pathetic mom keeps bitching about my smoking habits.


I was going to take the garbage out in the morning, but my wife kept bitching about it. All she does is bitch, bitch bitch...

Works fine as long as you don't say it to the person doing the bitching.

  • 1
    "on my case" and "on my ass" also work here, as in: My boss won't get off my ass about resolving those enhancement items in this sprint. Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 3:50


noun: harangue; plural noun: harangues

a lengthy and aggressive speech.
"they were subjected to a ten-minute harangue by two border guards"

synonyms:   tirade, lecture, diatribe, homily, polemic, rant, fulmination, broadside,   
verbal attack, verbal onslaught, invective; 

criticism, berating, censure, admonition, reproval, admonishment;
exhortation, declamation, oration, peroration, speech, talk, address;
informalsermon, tongue-lashing, spiel, pep talk;
rarephilippic, obloquy

"father began a harangue about my monstrous behaviour"

antonyms:   panegyric

verb: harangue; 3rd person present: harangues; past tense: harangued;   
                past participle: harangued; gerund or present participle: haranguing

lecture (someone) at length in an aggressive and critical manner.
"he harangued the public on their ignorance"

synonyms:   deliver a tirade to, rant at, lecture, hold forth to, preach to,   
pontificate to, sermonize to, spout to, declaim to, give a lecture to; 

Source : the Oxford English dictionary

  • If you look at the previous version, I did attribute,, but something prevented it displaying. Did that really merit a downvote? A comment would have (did) see it corrected.
    – Mawg
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 11:15
  • Thanks for upvoting again. I can't figure how to view previous versions, but it you look, it is there
    – Mawg
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 11:28

Sometimes people might say I got a good

grilling from my mother (or boss)

As in being put over a fire. But this is used more in a lecturing way. It doesn't usually indicate that a conversation was taking place, but that it was an admonishment by one person to/over another.


The first word to come to mind is


  • To annoy or bother (someone) in a repeated way

  • To harass with petty irritations

I think this is the perfect word because it implies that all of the complaints are minor, pointless, and trivial complaints. It's kind of like saying:

You are repeatedly annoying me about things that don't really matter/are not a big deal.

  • 3
    I like this one, but I can't vote it up because it's associated with a lower status person harassing a higher status person, whereas the OP specifically asks for the opposite relationship. You might describe your mother as pestering you, but it would be much more common to describe the child as pestering the parent. Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 2:44
  • 1
    Unfortunately 'pester' doesn't necessarily have any meaning of 'criticize'.
    – LarsH
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 14:08


to lower in character, status, or reputation

From M-W


"Carping" is also a possible choice. I assume we want to maintain the original context of relative status here: we want a word to be used by the person of inferior status (eg child) talking back to a person of superior status (eg parent) who has repeatedly given them unwanted advice or instructions. You wouldn't use "condescending" or "patronizing" because the recipient of the complaints is not of equal or superior rank. Same goes for all other words which imply that the criticism is inappropriate. Unless of course they're a princess who doesn't like being told what to do.



  1. to express earnest disapproval of
  2. to urge reasons against; protest against (a scheme, purpose, etc.)
  3. to depreciate; belittle

(Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc.)


As used in common vernacular, particularly in western youth, I suggest " Dissing". As a slang, contracted version of "disrespecting", it is usually used to describe a demeaning , impolite rude or negative comment.

Mother: You young people! Really, you do not respect anything. I do not know what has happened to you. At least, you should have cut your hair.

Child: Mom don't start dissing me again, please. What is wrong with my hair?

As such, it allows for the direct rebuttal of the Mothers claim to lack of self-respect among youth, and flavors the response with vernacular most specific to western youth.


Belittling is the the verb I would use to describe the situation. The official definition is:

be·lit·tle bəˈlidl/ (verb gerund or present participle:) belittling make (someone or something) seem unimportant.

Generally, I hear this used to specifically describe instances where a senior or someone with a higher position of power, demeans a person of lower authority. It can describe the action as well as implicitly describe the power structure between the two.

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