Very useful words: Cavil


I’m starting a new occasional feature where I highlight words I’ve recently spotted in the wild that are useful to know. Today’s word is cavil.

Cavil (caviling, caviler), a verb, means “to complain about things that are not important” or “to raise trivial and frivolous objections.”

Synonyms: carp, quibble, fuss, niggle, nitpick.

Cavil is a very useful word because it so precisely conveys a behavior that we see all the time, especially as a means to derail discussion or sidetrack an argument. Here’s a recent example: “While the president is spewing and caviling and spurting all over Twitter about unimportant things like the terrible, unfair Nordstrom, people like Jeff Sessions, Tom Price (2:11 am confirmation), and others are taking over the reins of government.”

In the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, Dean Stockwell played a character named John Cavil, who was the main antagonist of the series. Cavil’s quest for vengeance is motivated by his rage at being an android saddled with the weaknesses of humans: “I’m a machine, and I can know much more, I could experience so much more, but I’m trapped in this absurd body.”


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