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First attested in 1599. Origin uncertain, but likely borrowed from Norwegian nigla (to be stingy), 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.
    • 2012, The Guardian, London 2012: Christian Taylor aims high as Phillips Idowu stays away, by Anna Kessel
      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.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Beaumont and Fletcher to this entry?)
  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.
  4. (intransitive, chiefly Britain) To fidget, fiddle, be restless.

Derived terms[edit]