Word: fastidious

Pronunciation: fas-TI-dee-əs

Part of Speech: adjective


  1. very attentive to and concerned about accuracy and detail
  2. very concerned about matters of cleanliness

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Ana Pascal: My tax files. (pulls out a box full of loose papers)

Harold Crick: You keep your files like this?

Ana: No, actually I’m quite fastidious. I put them in this box just to screw with you.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

The above dialogue from the film Stranger Than Fiction is a great example of how the meaning of an uncommon word can be made perfectly clear in context. While being audited by IRS agent Harold Crick, Ana Pascal claims that contrary to his first impression, she’s actually very neat and organized. She makes it clear that the only reason she presents her tax files in such disarray is to spite the “taxman” who’s come to disrupt her life, a plan that pretty much works exactly the way she hoped.

A “fastidious” person is someone who is particularly attentive to detail, especially in matters of cleanliness. Interestingly, this adjective comes from the Latin noun fastidium, which means “loathing” or “squeamishness”. The original definition of the word was “disagreeable” or “disgusting”, and current meanings arose in the 17th century.

Despite its association with cleanliness, “fastidious” might still carry hints of its original definitions. My SAT flashcards, for instance, define the word as “difficult to please” or “squeamish”, suggesting a person whose attention to detail leads them to easily find fault in what they observe. Personally, I prefer the definition used in Stranger Than Fiction, but it’s up to you to figure out how best to work this word into your own writing. Perhaps you can even have fun writing for a character who’s “fastidious” in every way imaginable!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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