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Pernickety vs. persnickety

  • Persnickety is the American word for fussy, fastidious, or highly detail-oriented. Pernickety is the British word. The British spelling is older, with the earliest known instances dating from the early 19th century.1 Its exact origins are mysterious, though it may be related to the Scots pernicky.2 The American spelling dates from the late 19th century.3

    Canadian writers tend to use the American version. The British version is preferred everywhere outside North America.

    Examples

    North America

    The Marines have always been among the most persnickety when it comes to their uniforms and their appearance. [Washington Post’s Checkpoint Washington blog]

    A little bit persnickety – as befits his personal-brand – was Britain’s Greatest Living Artist. [National Post]

    There’s a persnickety approach to watches on the part of men that equates to a female specificity about shoes, hair color or beauty treatments. [Wall Street Journal]

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    Outside North America

    [R]elations with the pernickety and exacting Dodgson were often fraught. [Guardian]

    A return to love—of quality cloth, pernickety hand stitches, simply beautiful-clothing-like-they-used-to-make-in-the-old-days and most especially, of elegant provenance—could save fashion’s sorry arse. [Sydney Morning Herald]

    It is painstaking, pernickety work requiring a sculptor’s eye and a scientist’s appreciation of animal anatomy and behaviour. [Scotsman]

    References

    1. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/141271 ^
    2. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=pernickety ^
    3. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/141473 ^

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    Comments

    1. Hmm… I know we in America pronounce the “s” in persnickety. And, I’m pretty sure the “no-s” in the British sphere version is pronounced without the s. Odd how the extra character got in the American word. Anyone know? (and can confirm the British pronunciation, since per-nik-ih-tee, with either no emphasis, or on the NIK seems kind of odd, no matter what (to American ears))

      GoatGuy

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