From Middle English stighteler, stytelere, equivalent to stickle + -er. The judges at Cornish wrestling matches do indeed carry sticks which serve for signalling and as a badge of their office, but this practice is generally held to be derived from the word and not the word from the practice, and is thus a false or popular etymology.
stickler (plural sticklers)
- (now only Cornwall) A referee or adjudicator at a fight, wrestling match, duel, etc. who ensures fair play. [from 16th c.]
- 1603, John Florio, transl.; Michel de Montaigne, chapter 27, in The Essayes, […], book II, printed at London: By Val[entine] Simmes for Edward Blount […], OCLC 946730821:
- In ancient time they were wont to employ third persons as sticklers, to see no treachery or disorder were used, and to beare witnes of the combates successe.
- Sir Philip Sidney
- Basilius, the judge, appointed sticklers and trumpets whom the others should obey.
- Our former chiefs, like sticklers of the war, / First sought to inflame the parties, then to poise.
- Someone who insistently advocates for something. [from 17th c.]
- Synonyms: dogmatist, formalist, pedant, traditionalist
- Lexicographers are sticklers for correct language.
- Jonathan Swift
- The Tory or High-church were the greatest sticklers against the exorbitant proceedings of King James II.