Do you take for philosophy this twaddle, this intolerable pettifoggery adorned with a few scholastic trimmings?

P.-J. Proudhan

Who among us hasn’t occasionally circulated by the stratagem of sharp practice or hair-splitting a distinction without a difference? The innuendo though frequently founded upon earnest pursuit is more often a mark of a trivial quarrel or squabble. Seldom does the skulduggery reach the height of malicious calculation. Where however the pettifoggery descends into corruption or deceit it is intolerable.

As for the etymology of pettifoggery I shall only observe the suggestion of its Low Germanic or Dutch roots, combining small-scale (“petty”) and swindler or perpetrator (“fogger”). One’s imagination may prompt a more lascivious and unprintable rendition, sometimes metaphorically characterized as a capitalist (which in the 16th century when the word originated may not have enjoyed the dignity it does today, denoting instead the lower merchant classes and the universally disdainful money lenders).  The whole threatens to become entirely confounded by an admixture of religious condescension too repugnant to repeat.

Though there is a common and inescapable element of chicanery and unscrupulousness associated with pettifoggery there are those who take a far less serious (and more astute) view of the matter:

What then is pettifoggery but a way of utilizing something established without doing away with it?

“The Ego and His Own” by Max Stirner

Certainly I won’t attempt to elevate pettifoggery to the level of an undisputed talent. But neither will I dismiss it as mere rhetoric or quibbling.  It may well be worthy of the dignity of a last resort or at the very least a painfully obvious ploy.  In some circumstances winning and being right are not paramount. There may be some redemption in the journey to get there at whatever cost or peril (especially I suppose when confronted with what is discernible as a lost cause).  The employment of a quip or a quibble is hardly the work of a charlatan, rather the wiles of a witty mind.  I am prepared to recognize the value of some moderately twisted words to illustrate a point but I don’t think it’s necessary to go so far as accusing one of being a shyster.  Really! Add some humour to the mix!  Besides the condemnation (if any) is most often aligned with situations of lesser importance. Thus to temper any contrary fury to the employment of pettifoggery is perhaps a mark of both restraint and substance.  One mustn’t for example compare the likes of Prince Hall and Falstaff! While they are poles apart they do nonetheless illustrate a peculiar compatibility in their personal expression and alliance. The history of the world shows that “man tirelessly defends himself against ties of every sort“, the decoration of a history of a thousand years. Pettifoggery though a mock deliverance is at least a fulfillment.