From the book XML for Dummies.

If you’re worried that building well-formed documents by hand will be tedious and not worth the effort, don’t abandon us (and XML) here. Take a look at the sidebar “Staying well formed with good tools” elsewhere in this chapter to find out how a good XML tool picks the nits for you.

What does that expression mean?

  • 1
    picks the nits = does the trivial Aug 25, 2014 at 13:54

1 Answer 1


The expression is originally that someone is a nitpicker:

pedantic critic, 1951; see nit (n.) + pick (v.)

Nits are louse eggs (very small things) and someone who picks them is paying (too much) attention to very little things. In a play of words, the expression has been undone into picking nits. Without the pre-existing nitpicker, it wouldn't make much sense.

The "joke" works only based on the reader's knowledge of nitpicking, just like I could have a stab at humour saying that I am cleaning vacuum when I am cleaning the house.

In the context you quoted, it means that the XML tools will take care of all the little details for you (presumably so that you can focus on the bigger, more important things).

  • For another example, occasionally you see "buckling one's swash" as a joking (and inaccurate) deconstruction of "swashbuckler". At least "picking nits" actually is what a nitpicker is analogously doing, so the deconstruction itself is sound. Jun 8, 2015 at 12:53

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