from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • intransitive verb To argue or find fault over trivial matters; raise petty objections. synonym: quibble.
  • intransitive verb To quibble about; point out petty flaws in.
  • noun A carping or trivial objection.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • 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.
  • noun See cavel
  • noun A captious or frivolous objection; an exception taken for the sake of argument; a carping argument.
  • noun See cavel.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

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

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb intransitive To criticise for petty or frivolous reasons.
  • noun A petty or trivial objection or criticism.

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

  • noun an evasion of the point of an argument by raising irrelevant distinctions or objections
  • verb raise trivial objections


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

[French caviller, from Old French, from Latin cavillārī, to jeer, from cavilla, a jeering.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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.


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

    Links and Notes 2006

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

    Israel's Predicament Bret Stephens 2011

  • 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 Bernard-Henri Lévy 2010

  • 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 2011

  • 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 Alexander Rose 2011

  • 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 2011

  • 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.

    Archive 2009-08-30 2009

  • 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 2011

  • 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 2009

  • 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 2011


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  • nitpick

    June 20, 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Word used in Ron Chernow in Chapter 31 of his biography WASHINGTON to describe GWs conduct towards General Greene.

    July 10, 2015