The word you'd use to describe a 1940's middle school where kids would be spanked for not having the proper haircut or tucking in their shirts. Not "strict", because strict implies necessary discipline.

  • If the word you're looking for contains one or more of these elements—"checking or curbing by or as if by pressure," "putting down or subduing by force," and "preventing the natural or normal expression, activity, or development of"—then Merriam-Webster suggests that it may be repressive. – Sven Yargs Oct 23 '18 at 19:47

There are a few options.

Draconian doesn't imply necessary discipline, but overly explicit discipline. Draconian rules are generally seen these days as unnecessarily harsh.

Strict doesn't need to imply necessary, either, though if that's not the word that fits for your usage, then it's not the word. I get it.

Petty, as you used in your title, is actually not a bad way to go. Petty definitely has a connotation when paired with discipline and punishment. I guess it depends on the sentence, but "the doling out of punishment for infraction of petty rules" definitely says what I think you're trying to say.

If it's regarding a law, there's a concept of futile law, and a phrase Lex neminem cogit ad vana seu inutilia peragenda which means that the obligation has become impossible or implausible to commit to. Probably not what you're looking for, but sometimes outside-the-box concepts can help make concrete what you're trying to say.

Specific to your example, corporal punishment doesn't specifically mean that it's a petty punishment, but modern readers are likely to associate corporal punishment as being petty for such infractions.

Lastly, gross punishment may fit your needs. "A gross punishment for petty infractions" would imply that the punishment far exceeds what would be deemed reasonable given the "crime".

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  • As a note, it may (or may not) be important to decide whether the enforcement is petty or if the rule itself is petty. Petty enforcement of a rule is different than enforcement of a petty rule. Only slightly, but... – Jesse Williams Oct 22 '18 at 14:54

What about “pettifogging” - placing undue emphasis on petty rules?

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  • Derek, this has the opportunity to be an excellent answer, but it's missing a crucial element. Our site is a bit different from other Q&A sites: an answer is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct - preferably by quoting a reference (e.g. dictionary definition) hyperlinked to the source. You can edit your post to add this detail; for further guidance, see How to Answer. I'd be happy to upvote your answer if you provide the necessary detail :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Oct 22 '18 at 21:38

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