I remember reading (apparently not on the internet) a lighthearted definition of the word I want to use. This noun means a kind of quibble that is so trivial that only a metaphysician or similar flibbitigibit would point it out. To all normal people the matter is resolved.

Can anyone help me get this word off the tip of my tongue and into electronic ink?

I think it begins with the letter "p" and has at least three syllables.

  • Can you specify in which sentence(s) would you use it? Also can you describe if it is exact technical term or more figurative term?
    – Unreason
    Nov 9, 2011 at 19:01

8 Answers 8


Perhaps you are thinking of pettifog? Although it's a verb, not a noun.

Ah, the noun is pettifoggery. That's five syllables. :)

As per wiktionary:

He was capable of using lawyerly rhetoric, at times, to the brink of pettifoggery.

Related: pettifogger.

Someone who quibbles over trivia, and raises petty, annoying objections.


Are you thinking of pedantic?

1.ostentatious in one's learning.
2.overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching.


I thought of pedantic immediately, but you said it wasn't that.

Maybe it was persnickety, which means to be fussy about details.

Also, punctilious fits this description.


A word that I find amusing in itself that might fit your description is picayune:

picayune, [pik-ee-yoon] adjective; concerned with trifling matters : petty, narrow, or small-minded in point of view [MW Unabridged]

  • I know this word only because it was the name of a small-town, rather old fashioned newspaper in some of Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who... books :o)
    – aedia λ
    Nov 9, 2011 at 18:59
  • @aediaλ: The newspaper of not-so-small New Orleans calls itself the Times-Picayune...
    – Gnawme
    Nov 9, 2011 at 23:57

You might be thinking of moot point:

(US) An issue regarded as potentially debatable, but no longer practically applicable. Although the idea may still be worth debating and exploring academically [the idea is] irrelevant for the present issue.

Or academic question, a question of no practical use that may be hotly debated among academics, or esoteric, "Having to do with concepts that are highly theoretical and without obvious practical application", or recondite, "Dealing in things abstruse; profound; searching. [e.g.] My philosophy professor believes she is in the field of recondite studies."

  • That's not it but it does match my description. Nov 9, 2011 at 17:41

The sort of thing philosophers debate might sometimes be called hair-splitting. There again, others might call it nit-picking.


Something like this is often expressed as arguing semantics. Semantics has a specific meaning, but in common use it's often used to dismiss something as mere technical details. (In the same way theory means something different in science.)


Punctilio, perhaps?

1 : a minute detail of conduct in a ceremony or in observance of a code

2 : careful observance of forms (as in social conduct)

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