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

  • intransitive v. To evade the truth or importance of an issue by raising trivial distinctions and objections.
  • intransitive v. To find fault or criticize for petty reasons; cavil.
  • n. A petty distinction or an irrelevant objection.
  • n. Archaic A pun.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A trivial or minor complaint, objection or argument.
  • v. To complain or argue in a trivial or petty manner.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A shift or turn from the point in question; a trifling or evasive distinction; an evasion; a cavil.
  • n. A pun; a low conceit.
  • intransitive v. To evade the point in question by artifice, play upon words, caviling, or by raising any insignificant or impertinent question or point; to trifle in argument or discourse; to equivocate.
  • intransitive v. To pun; to practice punning.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To trifle in argument or discourse; evade the point in question, or the plain truth, by artifice, play upon words, or any conceit; prevaricate.
  • To pun.
  • n. A start or turn from the point in question, or from plain truth; an evasion; a prevarication.
  • n. A pun; a trivial conceit.

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

  • v. evade the truth of a point or question by raising irrelevant objections
  • v. argue over petty things
  • n. an evasion of the point of an argument by raising irrelevant distinctions or objections


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

Probably diminutive of obsolete quib, equivocation, perhaps from Latin quibus, dative and ablative pl. of quī, who, what (from its frequent use in legal documents); see kwo- in Indo-European roots.



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  • On “quibble” as a synonym for “pun,” Samuel Johnson on Shakespeare’s love of them:

    A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures, it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it.

    Samuel Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare

    January 6, 2015

  • ...the clerk drove his old-time quibble slowly and noisily down the street...

    - P.K. Dick, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

    March 24, 2012

  • denounced the willingness of members to quibble about fees and diagnosis

    September 14, 2010

  • Very useful if you're where I come from.

    July 17, 2009

  • Plath citations: see note at ruck.

    April 14, 2008

  • Isn't quibble a lovely little word?

    August 27, 2007