Printable Version
Pronunciation: kwi-bêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: 1. To cavil, niggle, to split hairs or find fault for petty nit-picking reasons. 2. To evade discussing an important issue by raising petty, trivial questions or making such irrelevant comments.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a solidly English word with very English relatives, even though the root comes from Latin (see Word History). Someone who quibbles is a quibbler who engages in quibbling.

In Play: Quibbling is most noticeable when it obstructs an important event: "Stop quibbling about who is going to pay for the doctor's bill and get me into surgery!" Since the US media love quibbling, we see a lot of it on TV and in the newspapers: "The quibbling over the new nominee can only slow down the appointment process but not change the outcome."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from the diminutive of an obsolete noun, quib "equivocation". Quib is a reduction of Latin quibus, the dative and ablative plural case of qui "who, what", a word that stands out in courts and legal documents and hence is associated with long, exasperating niggling. Believe it or not, Latin qui comes from the same source as English who and what, not to mention Russian kto "who" and chto "what". The old Proto-Indo-European root for the interrogative pronoun was kwo-. Latin kept the [kw] sound in qui, but [k] became [h] in English, giving the sound [hw], written WH for some reason. This pronunciation is preserved in what in most US dialects, but in various parts of England and the northeastern United States, the initial [h] has vanished. (We won't quibble about thanking William Hupy, who worries that we are underreporting words beginning with Q, for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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