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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Apr 05, 2018 11:11 pm

• punctilious •

Pronunciation: pêngk-ti-li-ês • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Showing precise concern for proper behavior, very closely observant of even the smallest details of social conventions. 2. More broadly, observant of the fine points of any activity.

Notes: Punctilious originally referred to an awareness of the punctilios (fine points) of the rules of proper conduct. However, a punctilio is today any fine point so the meaning of the adjective is broadening, too. This word is sometimes confused with punctual. Punctual refers to people who are always on time. The most common noun from this adjective is punctiliousness, though punctiliosity has been used as late as 1919.

In Play: This Good Word is most commonly used to refer to someone who is attentive to the finer points of almost anything: "The PBS series Downton Abbey is known for its punctilious attention to all the mores of the era it recreates." It may be used to refer to too much attention to detail: "Rhoda Book's latest novel has such a punctilious list of every detail of each character that it becomes prolix.

Word History: This word was borrowed from Italian puntiglioso "punctilious" from puntiglio "obstinancy, stubbornness", which Italian borrowed from Spanish puntillo "exaggerated sense of honor". The Spanish word came from Latin punctillum "fine point, dot, spot", the diminutive of punctum "point, dot, spot". This word is the past participle of pungere "to prick", inherited from nasalized form of the PIE root peuk- "to prick". It arrived in English as the tool, a punch, and the verb pounce, which was at one time associated with avian predators whose pounce is accompanied by piercing of claws. Without the Fickle N, it went into the making of Latin pugnus "fist", which we see in the English borrowings pugnacious and pugilism. Finally, the word pygmy comes to us via the related Greek word pygme "fist".
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George Kovac
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Re: Punctilious

Postby George Kovac » Tue Apr 10, 2018 10:25 am

Punctilio is a word delightful to the ear, and a word known to every lawyer because this rare word appears in a famous quote from a legal opinion studied by every first year law student. Meinhard v. Salmon was a 1928 lawsuit involving the duties that one partner in a joint venture owes to the other. Benjamin Cardozo, the Chief Judge of New York’s highest court, wrote, “A trustee is held to something stricter than the morals of the market place. Not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive, is then the standard of behavior… the level of conduct for fiduciaries [has] been kept at a level higher than that trodden by the crowd.”

Punctilio. The word sticks in the mind’s ear for a lifetime.

The use of a rare word may come off as pretentious. But when properly deployed, as in Cardozo’s example, a rare word is a mnemonic vehicle to remind us of an important principle. Though the word punctilio may be rare, its practice is demanded of all persons in a fiduciary role or a role of public trust. I would argue that a punctilio of honor is called for in public life, or at least "something stricter than the morals of the market place." The punctilio rule—too often disparaged today—should apply to not just to Caesar’s wife, but to Caesar himself.
"The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words." Colum McCann, But Always Meeting Ourselves, NYT 6/15/09

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Re: Punctilious

Postby call_copse » Wed Apr 18, 2018 6:52 am

I always enjoy your post Mr K and this one didn't disappoint. Interesting perspective, I'll remember that.

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