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I read this in Word by Word by Kory Stamper:

Lexicographers and linguists claim to be peeveless- we are, after all, objective scholars of language - but that is disingenuous. Emily Brewster confesses to caring about the distinction between "lay" and "lie" and even after all these years stumbling across "impactful" in prose makes me blanch, and this is after I have had to goddamn define impactful but there is one ur-peeve, one particular and incredibly minor complaint that lexicographers and linguists indulge in with all the zeal of a convert defending the one true faith: everyone but them uses the word "grammar" wrong.

What does the term "ur-peeve" mean in this context?

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  • Looks like a typo for "uber-peeve" - mising English and German, to mean "ultimate peeve"
    – MikeB
    Jul 16, 2019 at 14:58
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    @MikeBrockington There exists the prefix ur- in English, taken straight from German (or some ur-German, heh).
    – user3395
    Jul 16, 2019 at 15:15

1 Answer 1

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This is a borrowing from German. It means "ultimate" or "primaeval".

In English, it was borrowed by people analysing old poems, stories and folktales. The "Ur-text" is the original version of a story.

It doesn't have much usage outside of lexicographers and linguists, but among them, it can have a sense of "ultimate". Here it is being used as a sort of joke, combining a rare and technical prefix in a casual essay about a personal attitude to grammar.

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    A good answer, but I don't agree that "it doesn't have much usage outside of lexicographers and linguists." "Ur-text" is in fairly wide use even by non-specialists, often in reference to pop-cultural artifacts, and this type of jokey usage of the ur- prefix is also pretty common among reasonably well-educated people, at least in the U.S. It even crops up from time to time in newspapers and middlebrow general-interest magazines. (I'm neither a lexicographer nor a linguist, and I'd guess I encounter it several times a year at least.)
    – Nanigashi
    Jul 16, 2019 at 22:07
  • It's also used in some fiction: He is invited into their council as an "ur-Lord" because of...
    – Davo
    Jul 19, 2019 at 11:33

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