Also found in: Thesaurus, Idioms.
chop logic To argue, dispute, or to pettifog, to bandy words; split hairs. This expression, which dates from 1525, is most likely an extension of the now obsolete meaning of chop ‘barter, trade, or exchange.’ Shakespeare used the noun form chop-logic in Romeo and Juliet:
How, now! How, now! Chop-logic! What is this?
“Proud,” and “I thank you,” and “I thank you not,”
And yet “not proud.” (III,v)
nit-pick To be overly concerned with picayune details; to look for inconsequential errors, often to the point of obsessiveness. A nit is the egg or larva of a louse or other parasitic insect. The task of removing all the nits from an infected person or animal can be almost overwhelming as it requires a millimeter-by-millimeter examination with a magnifying glass and tweezers. By extension, a pedantic person immersed in minutiae is often called a nit-picker.
When the nitpickers and Parliamentary horse-traders had nished with it, the program had shrunk to much smal1er proportions. (Washington Post, July 3, 1959)
seek a knot in a bulrush To look for errors or difficulties where there are none; to nit-pick; to pursue trivial, futile activities. Since knots occur only in woody plants, it would be both time-consuming and futile to try to find one in a bulrush, a grasslike, herbaceous plant.
Those that sought knots in bulrushes to obstruct the King’s affairs in Parliament … (Roger North, Examen; or An Enquiry Into the Credit and Veracity of a Pretended Complete History, 1734)
split hairs To make gratuitously fine or trivial distinctions. This expression refers to the fineness of hair and the subsequent difficulty involved in splitting a single strand. The expression is in common use today.
wrangle for an ass’s shadow To fight or bicker over trivial and insignificant matters; to nit-pick. This expression, once popular in England, is derived from a legend recounted by the Greek orator and statesman, Demosthenes (c. 384-322B.C.). A traveler who had hired an ass to take him from Athens to Megara was in such discomfort from the noonday sun that he dismounted and sought relief by sitting in the shadow cast by the animal. The ass’s owner, however, also wanted that shade and claimed that the traveler had rented the ass and not its shadow. The two men soon resorted to fisticuffs and the frightened animal fled, leaving both of them without any shade whatsoever. When the issue was pursued in the courts, the litigation was so lengthy and expensive that the two men were financially ruined. An earlier variation is gone to the bad for the shadow of an ass.