Definition of hair-splitting in English:



  • Characterized by or fond of small and overfine distinctions.

    ‘the legal experts have a particularly hair-splitting mentality’
    • ‘Any delineation between the nominally public and non-public spheres is now a hair-splitting irrelevancy.’
    • ‘I've never been surer of anything in my life, despite what they say about their hair-splitting coverage.’
    • ‘The fact that he is operating in such a crowded field, and the need to demonstrate originality, leads the author into a number of distracting, hair-splitting arguments, often with fairly marginal historians.’
    • ‘It's bad luck and bad timing, but it does count for something in this hair-splitting contest.’
    • ‘How can the Supreme Court possibly know what the most divisive policy is with respect to these hair-splitting distinctions.’
    • ‘Then they became immersed in hair-splitting debates about difficult ‘moral’ decisions but within a context where everything was justified if politically useful.’
    • ‘There's plenty of artful writing and thought here, and her wit makes even the excess historical padding and linguistic hair-splitting palatable.’
    • ‘Ecclesiastical historians will tell you that hair-splitting issues are the ones that cause havoc among the zealots.’
    • ‘The pursuit of physics by hair-splitting quibbles and scholastic logic applied to Aristotle's texts, as in this first long manuscript of Galileo's, was more an elaborate verbal game than an investigation of Nature.’
    • ‘A good example of this is the often hair-splitting legal distinctions between valid and invalid transfers.’
    quibbling, fault-finding, niggling, cavilling, carping, captious, critical, criticizing, disapproving, censorious, judgemental, overcritical, hypercritical, pedantic, punctilious, pettifogging
    nitpicking, pernickety, picky
    nice, overnice
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  • [mass noun] The action of making small and overfine distinctions; quibbling.

    • ‘Avoid complicated issues of public policy; the people need to have their hearts lifted by statements of steely resolve, and there's little time for wonky hair-splitting.’
    • ‘Even the most intelligent and well-intentioned judge can create a mess by indulging in hair-splitting that, at least on its own narrow terms, may seem reasonable.’
    • ‘This is more than just legal hair-splitting - this designation carries a litany of legal implications, from his ability to be interrogated to his rights at trial.’
    • ‘Newspapers and radio call-in shows were awash with the rage of people who spared little thought for the judge's legal and scientific hair-splitting.’
    • ‘The aim of these fine distinctions, not to say hair-splitting, is to deny the Marxist thesis that the driving forces of the war were rooted in economic and geopolitical conflicts of the major capitalist powers.’
    • ‘If it all sounds like too much hair-splitting to you, it probably is.’
    • ‘A jury isn't going to convict on that kind of legal hair-splitting, and I think the prosecutor realized that.’
    • ‘A few liberal blogs are resisting the conclusions and some hair-splitting is going on about micro-details of line spacing and superscript heights.’
    • ‘You can argue that the lawyers are hair-splitting.’
    • ‘To argue that this is bad news because it is slightly higher than analysts expected is surely to enter the realm of statistical hair-splitting.’
    dogmatism, purism, literalism, formalism
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