PERSNICKETY: overly fussy

Persnickety. I love this word.  It’s fun to say.   It’s one of those old-fashioned words that doesn’t come up in conversations much these days.  My research indicates that it’s a word that comes to us from Scottish origins, and that its actual spelling was pernickety.  Over the years it was adjusted to the newer spelling, which is the more common here in the U.S. according to Garner.  The British evidently favor the older spelling.   But the meaning is the same no matter how you spell it or pronounce it.

A persnickety person is fussy to the extreme.   I suppose there is something of an O.C.D. factor involved, but I’ll leave that to the psychologists among us to debate.  What is known to people like me is that people who are overly conscious about things being ordered and in their correct places are what I call persnickety.

Order and precision are qualities in some places, such as in industries dealing with sensitive instruments.   White room technology, which requires absolute cleanliness and extreme precision in the manufacture and assembly of parts for space vehicles, for instance, not only requires such detailed procedures and products, but would fail to exist without it.  Pharmaceuticals, both in their manufacture, packing and distribution, obviously depend upon absolute perfection for fear of damaging the patient.  There are scores of other examples where a persnickety observance is required and valued.

But in personal interaction a persnickety person can be downright irritating.   Demand for perfection in dress, housekeeping, language, food preparation, and cleanliness can be overdone to the point of being obsessive.  It’s no fun to share an event with a persnickety person where the demand for precision and perfection can obscure the event itself.   If someone is comfortable with casual, imperfect existence, a persnickety person may turn out to be a “former” friend.

But there is also something of a humorous side to the persnickety person which calls for the use of the word.  I think of the character of Oscar in The Odd Couple Walter Matthau, the sloppy roommate  found Jack Lemmon’s  fastidious character to be overbearing.   The interaction between the two opposites, however, was hilarious.  The persnickety Lemmon was lovable.

I have to admit that as I have aged I have become more and more persnickety in the sense that I admire order more than chaos.   That hasn’t always been the case in my life, but of recent I have admired the concept of “a place for everything and everything in its place.”  I used to be amused by my wife’s elderly cousin who had a woodworking shop in which every tool was placed on a pegboard surrounded by a traced outline of the tool.  Today there is something attractive about that precision.

For instance, I find myself re-arranging the silver on the table in the restaurant so that the forks are on the left and the spoons and knife are in their proper places on the right, the knife facing in toward the plate.  I was taught that procedure as a child, and in this day and age have come to appreciate the wisdom behind the practice.  It’s more than a custom; it is a pragmatic arrangement.  Others are amused (or even irritated) by my rearrangement, but I’m satisfied with its appearance and practical application.  Am I persnickety?  Probably.

Room arrangement is another area where my proclivity for order is evident.  We have been going through some construction in our condo, and “everything is messed up, dusty, and not easily found when needed.“  (I’m quoting my constant belly-aching.)  I’ve been really out of sorts, and couldn’t wait to get most of the furniture and items back in their right places after the latest hiatus in construction.   I don’t look forward to the final stage which is to come in the next week or so when items will need to be rearranged temporarily.   But in the meantime, I find myself sitting in my favorite TV chair and admiring the semi-settled order which prevails, if only for a few days.  I’ll try not to be overbearing about it.

Illustration Credit: Desart

Next Post » »

Speak Your Mind