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See also: cavìl


Alternative forms[edit]

  • (17th–18th centuries; verb senses only): cavel, cavell


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.[1]



cavil (third-person singular simple present cavils, present participle (UK) cavilling or (US) caviling, simple past and past participle (UK) cavilled or (US) caviled)

  1. (intransitive) To criticise for petty or frivolous reasons.
    Synonyms: be hypercritical, nitpick, pettifog, split hairs
    • c. 1590–1591, William Shakespeare, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act I, scene i]:
      'Tis love you cavil at: I am not Love.
    • 1913, Robert Barr, chapter 5, in Lord Stranleigh Abroad[1]:
      Stranleigh found no difficulty in getting a cavalcade together at Bleacher’s station, an amazingly long distance west of New York. A man finds little trouble in obtaining what he wants, if he never cavils at the price asked, and is willing to pay in advance.
    • 1928, D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover:
      I wish you wouldn't cavil, Hilda.
    • 1976, Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Kindle edition, OUP Oxford, published 2016, page 368:
      But their first supporting quotation, which is from The Selfish Gene, includes selfish genes that do have phenotypic effects. Far it be from me, however, to cavil at the honour of being quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary!



cavil (plural cavils)

  1. A petty or trivial objection or criticism.
    • 1835, Charles G. Finney, Lectures on revivals of religion:
      It is not worth while to spend your time in arguing against a cavil, but make him feel he is committing a sin to plead it, and thus enlist his conscience on your side.



  1. 1.0 1.1 cavil, n.” and “cavil, v.” listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, second edition (1989)