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The Glossary of Useful Words 5: ‘captious’

A slightly judgmental or emotionally-tinged adjective meaning “quick to find fault” is the word ‘captious’, which one does not encounter these days in either speech or writing but is useful withal when intending to go beyond the simple word ‘punctilious’. Its origin (according to the OED Online) and definitions are as follows:

Etymology: < French captieux or Latin captiōsus fallacious, sophistical, < captiōn-em (see caption n.).

  1. Apt to catch or take one in; fitted to ensnare or perplex in argument; designed to entrap or entangle by subtlety; fallacious, sophistical.
  2. Apt to catch at faults or take exception to actions; disposed to find fault, cavil, or raise objections; fault-finding, cavilling, carping.

In the Age of Irrationality, perhaps it is not altogether blameworthy to be captious, when the polar alternative is never to criticize despite having good reasons to do so.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

2 Responses to “The Glossary of Useful Words 5: ‘captious’”

  • Gary Richmond says:

    I’d be interested in what you meant by ‘beyond’ in writing “going beyond the simple word ‘punctilious’.” In my thinking, ‘punctilious’ has little to do with “finding fault,” so doesn’t just “go beyond” but has a quite different meaning.

    It’s true that some informal uses might suggest a negative connotation, but a typical list of synonyms ro4 ‘pund5iliouw’ might look like this (following the definition and a typical example):

    Showing great attention to detail or correct behavior.
    “he was punctilious in providing every amenity for his guests”

    Synonyms:meticulous, conscientious, diligent, scrupulous, careful, painstaking, rigorous, perfectionist, methodical, particular, strict; fussy, fastidious, finicky, pedantic.

    Informal synonyms: nitpicking, persnickety
    “his punctilious implementation of orders”

    • What I meant by saying “beyond” has to do with the neutrality of ‘punctilious’ (attention to detail) in relation to the somewhat pejorative (hence affective) meaning of ‘captious’.

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