Persnickety is a wonderfully whimsical adjective that implies someone is obsessing over detail too much, often over a trivial matter. Now let's obsess over the details of its etymology! There are multiple accounts of its origins, and none of them are backed up too well. All etymologists agree that it was first coined in 1889, likely from the previous form pernickety, which held the same meaning and probably came into English circa 1800. One theory traces this to a Scots word, pernicky, but that could just be a cognate. Another school of thought is that pernickety is just a child's way of saying particular, and that a persnickety is just very particular over minutiae. Others say that -nick could be from knick-knack or that per- could be from a Latin prefix meaning "thoroughly", but no one is sure at all. It's all very mysterious. Persnickety is at its highest usage ever, but attestations of pernickety have been dropping since its peak in the mid-1900s.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.