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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English pevische, pevisse, pevysse, peivesshe, also peyuesshe, peeuish, of obscure origin. Perhaps from Middle English pew, pue (a plaintive cry, the cry of a bird), equivalent to pue +‎ -ish. Cognate with Scots pevis, pevess, pevych, pevach (peevish), Scots pew, peu (to cry in a plaintive manner). See pue.

An alternative etymology derives Middle English peyvesshe (capricious, silly), as a possible corruption of Latin perversus (perverted). The meaning “fretful” develops in the 16th century.

A third suggestion links the word to classical Latin expavidus (startled, shy) (< ex- + pavidus) via an unrecorded variant with -ai- of Middle French espave (stray [of animals]; foreign [of persons]; lost property, flotsam) (first attested 1283 in Old French; Modern French épave). The semantic connection is thought to be the behaviour of stray animals. Compare -ish suffix.



peevish (comparative more peevish, superlative most peevish)

  1. Characterized by or exhibiting petty bad temper, bad-tempered, moody, cross. [from 1520]
    • c. 1599, William Shakespeare, King Henry V, act III, scene 7:
      What a wretched and peevish fellow is this king of England, to mope with his fat-brained followers so far out of his knowledge!
    • 1600, William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, act I, scene 1:
      Why should a man whose blood is warme within, / Sit like his grandsire, cut in Alabaster? / [] And creep into the Iaundies / By beeing peeuish?
    I would rather figure things out on my own than ask that peevish librarian for help.
  2. Constantly complaining, whining; childishly fretful.
    • 1813, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, ch. 41:
      [T]he luckless Kitty continued in the parlour repining at her fate in terms as unreasonable as her accent was peevish.
    • 1938, Evelyn Waugh, Scoop, book I, ch. 2,1:
      His uncles peevishly claimed the paper.
    Peevish patients in the doctor's waiting room.
  3. Easily annoyed, especially by things that are not important; irritable, querulous.
    • 1917, P. G. Wodehouse, “The Mixer” in The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories:
      At first he was quite peevish. “What's the idea,” he said, “coming and spoiling a man's beauty-sleep? Get out.”
  4. (obsolete, adverb) Peevishly.
    • 1602, William Shakespeare, Richard III, act IV, scene 4:
      Be not peeuish fond in great designes. [1597 ‘pieuish, fond’; 1598 ‘peeuish, fond’; Malone conjectured ‘peevish-fond’, the reading adopted in many modern editions; the Arden edition prefers ‘peevish found’.].
  5. (obsolete, Northern England) Clever, expert. [18th c.]
    • 1710, Thomas Ruddiman in Gawin Douglas, Virgil's Æneis, translated into Scottish verse (new edition), gloss (at cited word):
      The word peevish among the vulgar of Scotland is used for niggardly, covetous; in the North of England, for witty, subtile.
  6. (obsolete, Canada, Northern England) Sharp, piercing, bitter (of the wind); windy, blustery (of the weather).
    • 1744, John Armstrong, The art of preserving health: A poem, book I, v. 285 ff.:
      [] the ridge [] / [] defends you from the blust'ring north, / And bleak affliction of the peevish east.
    • 1927, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Emily's Quest, p. 174:
      Something has happened to sour February's temper. Such a peevish month.
  7. (chiefly obsolete) Perverse, refractory; headstrong, obstinate; capricious, skittish; (also) coy. [from c. 1400]
    • 1539, Coverdale Bible (Cranmer Preface):
      Not onely foolyshe frowarde and obstinate but also peuysshe, peruerse and indurate.
    • 1616, William Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona, act V, scene 2:
      Why, this it is, to be a peeuish Girle, / That flies her fortune when it followes her.
  8. (obsolete) Silly, senseless, foolish. [16th–17th c.]
    • 1633, John Ford, 'Tis pitty shee's a whore, ch. 5, sig. I2v:
      This is your peeuish chattering weake old man.
  9. (obsolete) Beside oneself; out of one's senses; mad. [16th c.]
    • 1523, John Skelton, A goodly garlande or chapelet of laurell, p. 266:
      Some tremblid, some girnid, some gaspid, some gasid, As people halfe peuysshe, or men that were masyd.
  10. (obsolete) Spiteful, malignant, mischievous, harmful. [16th c.]
    • 1569, Richard Grafton, A chronicle at large and meere history of the affayres of Englande and kinges of the same (first edition), ch. 2, p. 176:
      In derision of the king, they made certaine peeuishe and mocking rymes which I passe ouer.
    • 1601, John Marston et al., Iacke Drums entertainment, ch. II, sig. D2v:
      This crosse, this peeuish hap, / Strikes dead my spirits like a thunderclap.
  11. (obsolete) Hateful, distasteful, horrid. [16th c.]
    • 1563, Thomas Becon, The displaying of the Popish masse (new edition, 1637), p. 299:
      The Lords Supper and your peevish, popish private masse doe agree the common proverbe is, like harpe and harrow, or like the hare and the hound.

Derived terms[edit]