Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • intransitive v. To find fault unnecessarily; raise trivial objections. See Synonyms at quibble.
  • transitive v. To quibble about; detect petty flaws in.
  • n. A carping or trivial objection.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To criticise for petty or frivolous reasons.
  • n. A petty or trivial objection or criticism.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A captious or frivolous objection.
  • intransitive v. To raise captious and frivolous objections; to find fault without good reason.
  • transitive v. To cavil at.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To raise captious and frivolous objections; find fault without good reason; carp: frequently followed by at.
  • To receive or treat with objections; find fault with.
  • n. See cavel
  • n. See cavel.
  • n. A captious or frivolous objection; an exception taken for the sake of argument; a carping argument.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. an evasion of the point of an argument by raising irrelevant distinctions or objections
  • v. raise trivial objections

Etymologies

French caviller, from Old French, from Latin cavillārī, to jeer, from cavilla, a jeering.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old French caviller ("mock”, “jest”, “rail"), from Latin cavillor ("jeer, mock, satirise, reason captiously"), from cavilla ("jeering”, “raillery”, “scoffing"); cognate with Italian cavillare, Portuguese cavillar, and Spanish cavilar; nominal usage developed within English from the original verbal usage. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The association of Brother Cavil's name with the word 'cavil' seems almost irresistible.

    Links and Notes

  • And if they cavil at it, as MPs have cavilled and continue to cavil at the detection of their felonies, they may yet discover what the whoosh of the guillotine blade sounds like.

    Let Us Destroy The Big State

  • Forgive the cavil, but I can't help feeling that schools facing the most savage cuts in several generations as a direct result of the actions of banks such as Lloyds would have preferred to retain a music department, say, than the chance to share in the magic of the Lloyds story.

    The London 2012 Olympic torch relay is following a path that inflames | Marina Hyde

  • But is it too much to ask its friends for support—this time, for once, without cavil or reservation?

    Israel's Predicament

  • Unlike Albany, where the insiders rule without cavil, California voters have imposed a two-thirds vote requirement for the legislature to raise taxes.

    The Two Left Coasts

  • I have only a cavil with George Amos's response Letters , Sept. 3, which quotes Faulkner's Nobel Prize speech.

    Mr. Faulkner's Tradition Continues

  • One can cavil that Mr. Hamner relies too much on instances of big-army conventional warfare to argue this assertion.

    Where They Got Their Grit

  • To those, yes, American democrats who quibble, cavil, and lose themselves in conjecture over the risks to which the judge who allows a criminal to live subjects honest people, we countered with Maïmonides's axiom: "It is more satisfying to acquit thousands of the guilty than to execute one sole innocent man."

    Bernard-Henri Lévy: And to Think That We Still Have to Argue Against the Death Penalty

  • Though counts may cavil and marquises moan, the Spanish parliament, backed by the Spanish electorate, has now put a stop to this kind of discrimination – a policy powerfully endorsed by the king though succession in the monarchy remains, for the moment, exempt from reform.

    Primogeniture: The second sex | Editorial

  • Thus, all predictions and opinions expressed herein should be taken with that cavil.

    Live blog: The Golden Globes – live! | Hadley Freeman

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Comments

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  • I've only seen this (and I've seen it often) in lawyers' briefs and judicial opinions, always "It is beyond cavil that..." These words can always be deleted to good effect.

    January 29, 2011

  • To object in a trivial way or for trivial reasons

    "Tutor: ....So, in a word, you stand head and shoulders above the ruck and, what's more, you could hold a chair of philosophy or architecture in a great university. And yet you cavil at your lot!

    Orestes: No, I do not cavil. What should I cavil at? You've left me free as the strands torn by the winds form spiders' webs that one sees floating ten feet above the ground. I'm light as gossamer and walk on air."
    --Jean Paul Sartre, The Flies

    December 8, 2008

  • "This is very unlike the situation of a merchant who offers goods for sale on a daily basis at a price that changes daily, where it is clear beyond cavil that an offer made at one day's price is not intended to continue to the next day."
    - Vaskie v. West American Ins. Co, (383 Pa.Super.76, 556 A.2d 436)

    September 4, 2008

  • nitpick

    June 20, 2008