Life Lesson in Fussiness


“He is very fussy about what he eats.”

You might wonder what caused me to think about fussiness this week. (If you don’t wonder at all at all, I’d ask you to keep it to yourself, please. Just ignore a recent unwise commendation of comments/feedback.)

The real cause? That would likely involve a deep psychological and/or familial enquiry for which I am both unprepared and unsuited, so let’s settle for the proximate cause. I was making a series of voice-over, screen-share videos as an orientation for writers, and it was turning out to be harder than it looked. What are the odds?

Working through the software tool — which I had been dreading — turned out to be the least of it. In relatively short order I was joined up, logged in, and headed out. Then came the hard part.

When I reviewed my videos, I discovered many things I did not like:

  • I had not left enough silent space at the start or end to allow for a non-abrupt start/stop.
  • As I moved from one screen to another to illustrate something, I had too many screens open to move with quick assurance, and too many personal screens open altogether.
  • As I talked about what was on the screen, I moved my cursor around too much. Waay too much.
  • I made a charming little clicking noise just before I started talking.

I needed less: less jumpiness, less confusion, less movement, less clicking. Some of these lessons in stillness had analogues in my other videos — my semi-annual fitness updates and my virtual book-launch series where I had struggled not to blink too much or to make meaningless gestures or to talk too fast or to swallow my words at the end of a sentence — and some reflected new opportunities to fail that were unique to this medium, hurray.


finicky, particular, over-particular,
fastidious, discriminating, selective,
dainty, punctilious, hard to please,
difficult, exacting, demanding,
choosy, picky, nitpicking,
old womanish, old maidish, pernickety,
faddish, nice, overnice

There are more similar words for fussy than I would have expected and I can’t say I’m fussy about all of them. (As one example of a suspect entry, while I have been called fussy, I have never been called dainty.) Are there really so many shades of meaning? Or is the filter for “similar” a tad too unparticular, insufficiently exacting, undernice, or generally lacking in pernicketyness (the un-North-American version of persnicketyness)?

Anyway, as I redid one 4-minute video for the severalth time, it occurred to me that while giving a fussy person a task might be a good supervisory tactic to achieve a creditable result, being a fussy person and taking on a task without any underlying skill is a recipe for something else.


noun: the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.

“I sometimes feel like screaming with frustration.”

exasperation, annoyance, anger,
vexation, irritation, bitterness,
resentment, disappointment, discouragement,
disheartenment, dispiritedness, depression,
dissatisfaction, discontent, aggravation

Postscript: Thanks to Oxford Languages for the details on fuss·y and frus·tra·tion. This is a series of dictionaries too fastidious, discriminating, and selective to be available except by subscription but whose definitions appear in full in Google searches, so what was the point of that per(s)nicketyness anyway?

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6 Responses to Life Lesson in Fussiness

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Forego feeding folks who fuss about their food.
    Foodies can otherwise be fair and fabulous, but their fussiness can be frustrating.


  2. barbara carlson says:

    Fussy rules if you want a job well done. You go, Isabel.

    No, you’re not dainty — which to me is the opposite — failure to even try.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yeah, I agree that fussy is essential to quality. One of the things I learned working with graphics types was what they saw (and cared about) that I did not. Yikes! But it did make a better product. As for the connection to dainty, I now wonder whether it’s another meaning of fussy — as in a dress or hairstyle being fussy. I could see that meaning having some contact with dainty, where the “picky” one doesn’t, to my mind.

  3. Isabel, you have made me laugh several times, which in the face of my life’s challenges at the moment is a high achievement. While I do not agree that “fussy” is necessarily essential to quality, as the Victorians made clear to those who followed in extravagances of embellishment and detail, it matters greatly in the designs for bridges and tall buildings and nuclear reactors, among many other things. Whether fussiness about food is a good thing or not may depend on who is doing the cooking. While I cannot comment on your preoccupation with fussiness this past week, you have ensured that I will be thinking (selectively) about fussiness in the week to come.

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