The Grammarphobia Blog

The pedigree of “pet peeve”

Q: Where does the phrase “pet peeve” come from?

A: “Pet peeve,” an alliterative expression referring to something that bugs you, is relatively recent in origin and dates to about 1919. Here’s the entry from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

The noun “peeve” isn’t much older, going back to only 1908, according to The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. It comes from the much older word “peevish,” an adjective from the 1300s. The derivation of “peevish” is unknown, but the Barnhart dictionary suggests that it might be linked to perversus, the Latin word for perverse.

Interestingly, one of the oldest meanings of the noun “pet” is a fit of peevishness. (The Oxford English Dictionary has published references going back to the late 16th century.) As an adjective, “pet” can mean “favorite,” as in “pet project” or “pet topic” or, getting back to the subject at hand, “pet peeve.”