Recently I have been watching What's my car worth?

One person said several times, "I like to pick nits.", as in being a nitpicker.

Do you use or have ever heard "pick nits"? It is used?

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    – Gnawme
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 23:41
  • Yah but does anyone actually say that?
    – B Seven
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 23:51
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    Yeah, my boss often says, "I hate to pick nits, but..."
    – Gnawme
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 23:54
  • Not picking any nits but the point here is that an idiom is not to be rephrased or it ceases to be idiomatic. (I've done that just now to show how bad it can be. I could/should have said "Not nit-picking but...).
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 14:22

2 Answers 2


Nitpick, nit-pick, and pick nits are all attested (Thesaurus.com). Literally it is the removal of the eggs of lice from the hair. Because the eggs are very small, this is a painstaking procedure.

Apparently the noun form nit-picker recently came to mean a person who attacks trivialities, and after that the verb form got its figurative sense (World Wide Words).


I think to the extent that Brits say it at all, it’s just a facetious reversal of metaphoric nitpick (occasionally hyphenated), which is really the only “standard” British version.

To me as a Brit, it’s a bit like saying, for example, “my flabber has never been so ghasted”.

But it seems quite a few Americans (although still a minority) say it. I guess it’s unlikely they’re all doing it facetiously.

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    When I've heard this, I've taken it to mean the person wants to offer a little self-deprecation or small bit of humor before giving a criticism, so that the person might be receptive.
    – Julia
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 2:34
  • @Julia: I assume either you're not US-based, or the American usage is at least partly a regional thing. Many of the written American instances I linked to don't even seem to be self-conscious, let alone self-deprecating. Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 4:31
  • I am US-based. Maybe even here it's a regional thing. I've only heard it in a funny, exaggerated way, "I hate to pick a nit, but..." or "May I pick a nit?" (said with a British accent perhaps). It stands out as trying to win over the listener in a small way. I haven't seen it written - maybe it would seem different then.
    – Julia
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 4:52
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    Ooooo...! I like "My flabber has never been so ghasted"! My experience here in North America matches Juila's. Anyone who uses 'nit picker' when speaking of his or her self, is always using it in the sense that Julia described in her first comment.
    – user597
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 14:47
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    As one who has (on occasion) been known to utter the phrase "pick nits", I can attest that @Julia is indeed correct: it's a bit of self-deprecation, because what comes after is likely to be annoying to those who don't care about details.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 16:48

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