June 16, 2004

What is a pet peeve, anyway?

Pet peeve: Just had to share a great page full of ways to combat junk mail, junk phone calls, etc. I detest spammers in all forms.

So if you were wondering about those Peeves and how they could possibly be anyone's pets -- the Word Detective can enlighten you.
A "peeve" is something that annoys or irritates you, and since irritation is a highly individual emotion, one's "peeve" mileage may vary from one's neighbor's.
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The precise derivation of "peevish" is uncertain, but it may be related to the Latin "perversus," meaning "reversed, perverse." The original meaning of "peevish" was simply "silly or foolish," but by about 1530 it had acquired the sense of "irritable, ill-tempered or fretful." Surprisingly, it then took several hundred years to develop "peeve" as the word for the irritating agent or action. "Pet peeve," meaning the one thing that annoys you more than anything else, first appeared around 1919. The "pet" (in the sense of "favorite") formulation probably owes its popularity and longevity to its mild perversity ("favorite annoyance" is a bit oxymoronic) as well as its snappy alliteration.
The Word Detective's site is fun to surf if you like words and sayings ... too bad my local newspaper doesn't carry this column. It looks like fun Sunday reading.

As for Peeves, the perverse poltergeist of Harry Potter fame -- he's aptly named based on the derivation above. There's a great little scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where Lupin turns the tables on Peeves by executing a quick zinger of a spell that turns Peeves's prank-in-progress onto Peeves himself. Too bad it didn't make the movie. It would only have taken 30 seconds of screen time. And it really takes one prankster -- even if somewhat reformed -- to so effectively take on another. It supports Lupin's character and history as Moony, and his practical approach to teaching Defense against the Dark Arts. And it's fun too. :-)

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