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First attested in 1599. Origin uncertain, but likely borrowed from dialectal Norwegian nigla (to be stingy, to busy oneself with trifles), ultimately from Old Norse hnøggr (stingy; miserly), related to Old English hnēaw (stingy; niggardly). More at niggard.


  • IPA(key): /ˈnɪɡəl/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɪɡəl


niggle (plural niggles)

  1. A minor complaint or problem.
    Synonyms: quibble, split hairs, cavil
    • 2012, Anna Kessel, “London 2012: Christian Taylor aims high as Phillips Idowu stays away”, in The Guardian:
      The Olympic medal contender's back problem has been described as a "niggle" by the head coach, Charles van Commenee, but Porter's friend and former team-mate Danielle Carruthers revealed that the injury is playing on the Briton's mind.
    • 2020 January 2, Richard Clinnick, “After some alarms, Sleeper awakens”, in Rail, page 47:
      He declared that it would take until the early New Year for all the faults and niggles to be ironed out, and that the rest of 2019 would be deemed to be a 'bedding in' period.
  2. (obsolete) Small, cramped handwriting.


niggle (third-person singular simple present niggles, present participle niggling, simple past and past participle niggled)

  1. (transitive, obsolete) To trifle with; to deceive; to mock.
  2. (transitive) To use, spend, or do in a petty or trifling manner.
  3. (intransitive) To dwell too much on minor points or on trifling details.
    Synonyms: nitpick, split hairs, cavil
  4. (intransitive, chiefly UK) To fidget, fiddle, be restless.
  5. (intransitive, UK, dialect, archaic) To walk with short steps.
    • 1893, Fores's Sporting Notes & Sketches, page 177:
      I can see him now with his one eye closed as he came niggling along, and didn't he just give me a grandfather's blessing!

Derived terms[edit]