I was recently asked if being fastidious is a good thing. So I pulled out my Webster’s Universal Unabridged Dictionary and flipped through the pages. Fastidious I found on page 666 (make from that what you wish). The column to the left contained fast or words related to it, with additional definitions on the previous page.
The definitions in the Webster’s were surprising. They included:
- Difficult to please; rejecting what is common, overly critical
- Daintily refined; easily disgusted
- Disgusting; loathsome [obscure]
From these definitions, one would conclude that doing something fastidiously has a negative connotation.
An online search of fastidiousness turned up definitions related to meticulousness and being concerned about cleanliness. Two of the Cambridge Dictionary’s definitions were at odds.
“Giving too much attention to small details and wanting everything to be correct and perfect, or nitpicky.”
“Having high standards and giving a lot of attention to details.”
Bottom Line: Being fastidious is good if you or someone else approves of your fastidiousness. But if someone finds it annoying, they will disapprove of your fastidiousness.
Context is everything.
The Many Meanings of Fast
As an adjective, fast is also a contranym, a word with opposite meanings. Fast can mean to hold tight or to move fast. As an adverb, fast can mean to be sound asleep, to do something rapidly, to be reckless, or to be ahead of the time—as in a fast clock. A person can play fast and loose with the truth or commit a fast one. And something binding, like a contract, can be fast and binding.
And a fast can also be a time to abstain from food for personal or religious reasons. Fasting is the verb, and the individual fasting is a faster. The fast day is the holy day for fasting.
And what to make of faster and fast food next to each other? Perhaps before starting a fast, the faster will stop at the fast-food restaurant and devour a meal quickly—and not fastidiously.
Fastidious has positive and negative meanings. But the bottom line is that the context and speaker’s or writer’s perspective determine whether the word has a positive or negative context.