Printable Version
Pronunciation: peev Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, Noun

Meaning: 1. (Verb) To vex, annoy, pester, irritate, irk. 2. (Noun) An irritation, an annoyance, something that vexes, irks, or gets on your nerves. 3. A state of irritation, as a fit of peeve.

Notes: Today's word comes with an adjective, peevish, which predates it; in other words, it is a back-derivation of peevish (see Word History). The adjective comes with an adverb, peevishly, and a noun, peevishness. We all have pet peeves, an irritation that stands out from all others. Mine is spam. Each day I must contend with 50-100 pieces of it.

In Play: This word may be used with inanimate objects: "The church was bedecked in a sea of flowers and glowing faces." It may also be used to refer to animate objects referring to their dress: "Maud Lynn Dresser arrived at the party bedecked in every piece of jewelry in her possession."

Word History: Today's Word was back-formed from peevish, as mentioned above. Back-formation is a process by which speakers of a language misanalyze a word, finding another word inside it. Pea is the classic example. Historically, this word was peas, a singular noun referring to peas collectively, like wheat and rye. But speakers later took the final S as a plural marker, and soon everyone was saying, "one pea". The same happened to peeve, which was back-formed from peevish. So whence peevish? We think it might have started out as Latin perversus "askew, awry, turned the wrong way". In fact, when peevish first entered English, it meant "perverse". That meaning soon migrated to "foolish" and thence to its current sense. (We are not at all peeved at offering our thanks to Kathy McCune of Norway for finding under foot such an interesting Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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