Posted by Bookworm on February 13, 2003
Below is the original post by S. Ryan, with my response. Hope it helps.
: Pardon the re-posting, but the our seventh grade language class lost its previous posting in the page overload... Ideas on origin and meaning please.
: : "called on the carpet"... any similar terms with similar meaning from UK?
: "nitwit" and "nitpick" Are they related? What is a "nit?" Does one have to be a "nitwit" in order to "nitpick"?
: Again, apologies if this is the wrong forum, but my class loves this site. It has created a lively interest in word and phrase origins. Many thanks for all your help.
Main Entry: 1nit
Etymology: Middle English nite, from Old English hnitu; akin to Old High German hniz nit, Greek konid-, konis
Date: before 12th century
: the egg of a louse or other parasitic insect; also : the insect itself when young
When the eggs are laid on hair (or fur) it is a tedious job to remove (pick) them off because they adhere to indivdual strands of hair. The term nitpick (below) probably came from the act of picking the nits off hair (or fur), strand by strand. A task which would take hours and require attention to small details.
: minute and usually unjustified criticism
As far as being a nitwit to nitpick, that would be judgement call. Some nitpicking may be warranted. When all aspects of a project must run pefectly, with no room for error, one would have to pay very close attention to the details and make sure nothing was overlooked. However, when this is not the case, the nitpicker is seen to be overly uptight about trifles.