Printable Version
Pronunciation: nig-êl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To slightly yet persistently annoy, nag or gnaw at, preoccupy, as 'doubts niggling at my brain'. 2. To worry over trifles, petty details, to nit-pick, as 'to niggle over pennies in the price'.

Notes: This verb comes with an adjective, niggly, meaning "worry over trifles", which brings with it a noun, niggliness. Someone who constantly niggles is a niggler. In the second half of the 18th century the playful blend niggledigée was popular in London, apparently in reference to a negligée's scantiness.

In Play: The first sense of this word may be heard in statements like this: "When Felix invited Felicity to dinner, it niggled him that he had invited someone else to dinner on the same night." The second sense turns up in statements like this: "The art of politics relies on the understanding that you do not get everything you want at once, but you must keep niggling at it until you do."

Word History: Today's Good Word is of uncertain origin. It was possibly borrowed from Old Norse (of the Vikings), for we find today in Norwegian dialects nigla "to busy oneself with trifles". It may have been built upon the now obsolete word nig "stingy" (also spelled nygge), seen in Modern Danish nygger, Norwegian (Nynorsk) nøgg, and Swedish njugg, all meaning "stingy". English niggard "miser, stingy person" shares the same source. How this root made its way into the Germanic languages is anyone's guess. (Now let's not by niggardly in our gratitude to Daniel Obertance for recommending today's historically mysterious Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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