This word has several meanings. We'll focus on these two useful ones:
1. When something niggles you, it's really bugging you even though it's a small thing.
2. And when you niggle over something, or niggle with something, or niggle away at something, you're spending a lot of time and effort getting the little details right, but they really don't matter.
Part of speech:
The first meaning is transitive: something niggles someone.
The second meaning is intransitive: you niggle over something, or niggle with something, or niggle away at something.
How to use it:
For the first meaning, talk about something small yet annoying and persistent that niggles a person: "Nervousness niggled him all morning." "Nothing niggles me more than my own typos." "The possibility of failure became a niggling thought."
For the second meaning, talk about niggling over something, or niggling with something, or niggling away at something, when you mean that you're obsessively getting all the little details right in a fussy way: "I niggled over the lettering on the poster for fifteen minutes." "He keeps niggling with the wording of his ad." "The cat niggled away at her fur."
Misplaced and missing punctuation always niggles me. I have to remember that it's the communicated thought that really matters.
I'll want to spend at least an hour niggling over my list of things to pack for a trip before I actually start packing. It's exhausting.
Look away from the screen to explain the definition in your own words. You’ll know you understand what "niggle" means when you can explain it without saying "bug" or "fuss."
Think of a time when you kept worrying about the same little thing, and fill in the blanks: "The (question/thought/possibility) of _____ niggled me."
Example: "The question of whether or not there was a backup outfit in the diaper bag niggled me as food kept smearing onto my daughter's dress."
Spend at least 20 seconds occupying your mind with the game and quote below. Then try the review questions. Don’t go straight to the review now—let your working memory empty out first.
Playing With Words:
We're playing with clichés this month, examining the origins of some colorful ones. I’ll give you a cliché (some of which you might also call a proverb and/or an idiom) and pose a multiple-choice question about its origin. (I used this nifty book as a reference!)
Yesterday's question: When you talk about how great something is by saying it’s “of the first magnitude,” are you (perhaps unknowingly) referencing the strength of earthquakes, the skill of generals, or the brightness of stars?
Answer: The brightness of stars. Folks started describing stars as having different “magnitudes” or levels of brightness way back in the 16th century. As clichés go, this one is beautiful, don’t you think?
Try this one today: “Flotsam and jetsam” are miscellaneous thingamabobs. Did we take this cliché from the world of fencing, dating, or seafaring?
A Point Well Made:
Douglas Adams: “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.”
1. One opposite of NIGGLE is
2. They niggled over the draft, _____.
A. slapping it together hastily before sending it out B. eventually deciding to accept it without any changes
C. changing a sentence here and restructuring a few paragraphs there
Answers are below.
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Disclaimer: Word meanings presented here are expressed in plain language and are limited to common, useful applications only. Readers interested in authoritative and multiple definitions of words are encouraged to check a dictionary. Likewise, word meanings, usage, and pronunciations are limited to American English; these elements may vary across world Englishes.