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On the Difference Between: Nuancing & Nitpicking (Miniblog #151)

by Carson T. Clark on November 25, 2012


I love a good nuance and loathe a bad nitpick. Of course, on more than rare occasion I’ve been accused of the latter while insisting I’m doing the former. This begs an important question: What’s the difference between nuancing and nitpicking? It seems to me the distinction includes a number of intertwined issues. While by no means a comprehensive list, I’ve sought to identify and highlight some of them below:1.This is the sixth post in the “On the Difference Between” blog series. In chronological order, here are links to the previous posts:
On the Difference Between: Reverence & Piety
On the Difference Between: Challenging & Attacking
On the Difference Between: Simplification & Oversimplification
On the Difference Between: Criticism & Insult
On the Difference Between: Child-like & Childish Faith

  • Attitude – Is the person gracious or severe, humble or arrogant?
  • Causation – Is the effect to encompass or mitigate, to be monocausal or multicausal?
  • Clarity – Is the detail being considered used to enhance or distract, refine or meddle?
  • Demeanor – Is the behavior interested or apathetic, straightforward or obliquitous?
  • Inflection – Is the tone circumspect or strident, assertive or aggressive?
  • Intention – Is the objective to help or hinder, pursue truth or win an argument?
  • Methodology – Is the approach careful or evasive, thorough or protectionist?
  • Outlook – Is the perspective flexible or rigid, self-critical or defensive?
  • Purview – Is the point germane or superfluous, focused or tangential?
  • Significance – Is the issue salient or trivial, profound or mundane?
  • Usage – Is the qualifier meant to recognize or obscure, further or obstruct?

Ultimately this whole distinction comes down to perception, I suppose.22.That is, whether or not a particular occasion is an example of nuancing or nitpicking is largely in the eye of the beholder. It’s a judgment call, so people can and will inevitably disagree. Yet we ought not use this as an excuse to fall prey to lazy relativity and/or a lack of critical thinking. Individual perception doesn’t mean the terms are synonymous nor that some judgment calls aren’t better or worse than others.33.Just because we’re all entitled to our opinions doesn’t mean all opinions are created equally. There isn’t a simple answer, but I would humbly suggest that the list above may help us discern the two–principally distinguishing between a good nuance and a bad nitpick.

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