Is there a higher register word that means to criticize something highly specific and inconsequential? Any synonym I can think of seems a little too vernacular, e.g. "to split hairs", "to nitpick". What's a more professional/academic way of saying this? I'd prefer a single word if one exists.
would fit, adjective: to be pedantic
overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching.
I found a possible answer:
to raise trivial and frivolous objection
The author caviled about the design of the book's cover.
I would probably go with quibble. You could equally use fault-finding.
Carping is another option, but that's nearly as informal as 'nit-picking', so I doubt you'll like it.
As an adjective or noun, you can use
An argument, fact, corner case, or other issue raised (often intentionally) that distracts from a larger issue at hand or fails to make any difference.
I don't like my debating class, the judges are too picayune and Dr. Moss always finds a way to disqualify people based on technicalities.
can mean to place undue attention on small details. It's a bit more formal than some of the other suggestions, but is also somewhat archaic.
The committee spent half the day pettifogging over some arcane rule and never got around to my proposal.
In a more pedantic way : tetrapiloctomie
Created by Umberto Eco from the Latin & Greek words Tetra (~4), Pilus (~hair) and ectomie (~cutting)
Better tasted in French so it's quintessential pedantic ;)
In the context of engineering, programming, or other technical disciplines, there is also
Parkinson observed that a committee whose job is to approve plans for a nuclear power plant may spend the majority of its time on relatively unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bikeshed, while neglecting the design of the power plant itself, which is far more important but also far more difficult to criticize constructively.
We were supposed to give our proposal to the client today but Jamie insisted on bikeshedding over the exact color of the cover page so we had to deliver the report later.
This term is more informal, and it's jargon specific to a particular field so it might not be what you are looking for, but others who come across this question may find it useful.
Edit: I just realized @MikeTheLiar already proposed this word in a comment, but the comment was hidden as it had a low score.
- Looking for small or unimportant errors or faults, especially in order to criticize unnecessarily. (Urban Dictionary)
‘It may therefore seem like philosophical nit-picking if I criticise some of his arguments for getting to those conclusions.’
‘A first-year student at Williams may well become frustrated with such fastidious nit-picking.’ (Oxford Dictionaries)
scrupulous. --> careful, thorough, and extremely attentive to details.
"...without being overly scrupulous...