The state legislature at this time was ruled over by a small group of wire-pulling, pettifogging, corporation-controlled individuals who came up from the respective towns, counties, and cities of the state, but who bore the same relation to the communities which they represented and to their superiors and equals in and out of the legislative halls at Springfield that men do to such allies anywhere in any given field.
-- Theodore Dreiser, The Titan, 1914
…since she was habitually absorbed in worsted work, and it was probably from her that Telemachus got his mean, pettifogging disposition, always anxious about the property and the daily consumption of meat, no inference can be drawn from this already dubious scandal as to the relation between companionship and constancy.
-- George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, 1876
Pettifogging comes from a combination of the word petty and the Middle Dutch word voger meaning "one who arranges things." The verb pettifog is a backformation of this term.