1 Fond of taking exception or raising objections; carping. LME
2 Apt or intended to deceive; fallacious, misleading. archaic. LME
3 obsolete. Capacious. rare (Shakespearean). Only in E17
captiously adverb M16
captiousness noun M16
A good vocabulary is a wonderful thing. John needn't just be nice, for example - he might be generous, or agreeable, or respectable, or gentlemanly, or anything that more clearly and accurately expresses what you think of John, other than the hopelessly vague nice. But paying compliments is easy - you're calm and can take your time to thoughtfully select the most appropriate words. Even if you struggle a little, that person is going to be nice enough, nay, patient enough to graciously wait until you've found those right words. Easy.
Where a solid, readily-accessible vocabulary really earns its keep, however, is in dealing with people that are not nice. For those that make our blood boil, we rarely have the time or composure to carefully and thoughtfully select our words - our skin is prickling and our teeth are clenched; we have been pushed to the brink and beyond. We desperately want to tell this person exactly what we think of them, what everyone thinks of them, to encapsulate in a few choice words the very irredeemable character flaws that will forever consign them to a bitter life of loneliness and scorn. But it is in these moments that our vocabularies so often fail us. For some, all they can do is unleash a volley of effs and blinders, as ubiquitous and devoid of meaning as nice. Or we just fall silent, unable to find even a single word to express the torrent of rage that is boiling within. It is for these moments of quickfire necessity that we need access to a vocabulary of choice, I'll-tell-you-exactly-what-I-think-of-you words: captious is one such word.
We all know captious people, and no other word quite fits. They're not just unpleasant, which is too vague to be meaningful; they're not just grumpy or contrary, which can be temporary states relieved by intervals of cooperation and even charm. Even fault-finding falls short, as that might just be a lack of sensitivity in rooting out genuine problems and mistakes. This person, however, is something else - this person is captious, a word that perfectly expresses the gleeful, smug, and thoroughly incorrigible refusal to be satisfied with anything. For every suggestion, there's an objection. For every decision that's taken, there is a reason why it should have been done differently. For every positive action by someone, there is a bad motive to be assumed. For every moment, every word, every look, every possible human interaction, there is a reason to take umbrage, exception and offence. The captious person has all the answers in hindsight, and is an expert in post-action analysis; the captious person takes no responsibility in making decisions, but every delight in questioning them. Do not stumble over your words. Do not retreat. Tell them what they are. Tell them loud. Tell them clear. Let the captious person carp no more.
Do please leave your most even-tempered, politely phrased comments below.