ink drawing of a young girl walking a monster on a leash

Girl with Pet Peeve, Shari Ross (2017)

We’ve been talking about lost loves and lean bohemian days and fleeting beauty and all manner of fools, so I thought I’d lighten things up a bit. What better way to do so than with idioms, one of the best sources of linguistic amusement? If you’re reading this blog you’re probably already a word nerd, but if some sort of internet serendipity has brought you here by other means, then I invite you to spend a day just noticing how often you use figures of speech.

Most of us likely don’t even realize we’re using them—I didn’t until I started spending a lot of time with people for whom English is not a first language. I still remember a time in college when a perplexed Chinese classmate asked me to explain the meaning of “letting the cat out of the bag” in a stilted but endearing cadence. These days I volunteer as an adult literacy tutor, and I spend a lot of time talking with my learner about similarly perplexing English idioms. She is from Africa and went to school there but now needs to pass the American GED to further her education in the U.S, and I am genuinely concerned that the hallowed test scribes have not kept absurd expressions from the exam. Oftentimes I’m at a loss to explain the origins of these expressions, and we have to give up and consult the oracles of google. Still, the whole tutoring project, and the exalted place of the dictionary in our program is part of what inspired me to start this blog.

First, the facts: The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the first use of “pet peeve” was documented in 1919. “Peeve” as a signifier of annoyance comes from “peevish,” dating back the 14th century. “Pet” in its current usage dates to around the same timeframe—circa 1500, quoth the good folks at the OED—from both Scottish and Northern English terms for an “indulged child.”

Central to the meaning is the fact that the thing that is annoying must be annoying to you in particular, not to all of us; so nails screeching on a chalkboard or “working lunches” or small humans screaming in the veritable echo-chamber of your neighborhood Target don’t count. Instead of boring you with my own collection of pet peeves, I asked friends to contribute via an informal poll. Following are some of my favorites:

  • Sleek glass doors in public places with no operating instructions (e.g., push, pull, slide).
  • Pick-up trucks with “testicles” hanging from the back hitch.
  • People who walk to closely behind you. People who walk too slowly in front of you but in the middle of the sidewalk such that you can’t pass them. People who walk awkwardly at the same pace as you.
  • Stepping on something wet with socks on.
  • Men who say they are “babysitting” their own kids.
  • Other people who say that men are “babysitting” their own kids.
  • Opening wet cat food containers and a little bit of it squirting on you and now, great—your shirt smells like gravy cutlets or whatever this nonsense is.
  • Having to poop right after getting out of the shower.
  • Cliché pet names (e.g., cats named Leo, poodles named Peppy).
  • Instantly thinking of something across the room that you definitely *need* to grab the second you’ve put lotion on your feet.

But let’s not limit ourselves by samples above. Please leave your own pet peeves in the comments section!

Now that we’re all pet peeve experts, here are some of my favorite synonyms. Bugbear is one that I came across in the most unlikely place imaginable: a hefty (1600 pages!) graduate-level edited textbook with the riveting title of Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control, an in-depth study of illnesses that one might acquire while in the hospital for another reason. Now, I am just a lowly academic editor, not a content expert, so you can imagine my position after reading 18 chapters of this book for a work project. I now know far too much about Legionnaire’s disease, mold-borne illnesses acquired from faulty hospital HVAC systems, and all sorts of methods of hand-washing and their associated pros and cons. I love my job, because I get to be a sort of fly-on-the-wall for all sorts of university courses, but to be frank, I was drowning in that textbook. So you can imagine my delight when I opened a new chapter to find that the author of that chapter, Dr. Joseph H. Abramson, was quite a funny guy. I happened upon this sentence:

“Bias is the bugbear of epidemiologists.” Thus began a chapter on study designs and different forms of bias that can present issues for epidemiologists. I had never heard this term before. A quick google search resulted in primarily images and facts about a type of character from a popular role-playing game. I’d never heard of this Bugbear character—unfortunately, I’m not that kind of nerd.

I’ll end with some more delightful, animal-inspired pet peeve synonyms to diversify our vocabulary of annoyance: gets my goat, bête noire (French for black beast), and finally bugaboo—that last one really rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it? 🙂


Abramson, J.H. (2011). Practical application of the principles of epidemiology to study design and data analysis. In C.G. Mayhall (Ed.), Hospital epidemiology and infection control (pp. 95-11).  Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer Health

Pet peeve (27 August, 2017). Retrieved from

Ross. S. (2017) Girl with pet peeve. Original commissioned work.