• stickler •
Pronunciation: stik-lêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Official regulator of a competition, umpire, referee. 2. Someone who is fussy about details, correctness, following the rules, going by the book and expecting others to do so, too.
Notes: Here is a word that has come a long way but has strayed off course time and again. Only recently it changed as a result of being confused with the various meanings of stick (see Word History). The verb (to) stickle is still available with the meanings (1) to referee, judge, or umpire; (2) to strive diligently for; and, more recently, (3) to haggle, make difficulties, raise objections.
In Play: I tend to rue the loss of a Good Word or even one of its meanings. I would love to hear wordplay like this: "I always liked those tennis matches when John McEnroe got a stickler of a stickler refereeing the game." However, I am also not one to cry over spilt milk, so let's enjoy the new meaning: "Morris Bedda is a stickler about everyone paying their own check when dining out."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an agent (doer) noun derived from the verb (to) stickle. This verb began its English life somewhere in the 9th century as stight "to order, arrange". By the 14th century it had become stightle "to order, control, govern". In the 16th century it was pronounced as it is today, stickle, and referred to a referee, umpire or other official regulator of a competition. From there it was only a hop and a skip to someone who plays strictly by the book and expects others to do so, too. The confusion with the verb (to) stick, in the sense of "stick to the rules", was all it took to push it into that meaning. (We are sticklers when it comes to thanking readers like Joy Aloisi for suggesting very Good Words like today's. So, thank you, Joy, for this one.)