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Why would someone want a peeve as a pet?

Upon searching for pet peeve, one explanation for the usage of pet was

the complaint is adopted like a pet

This meaning I can understand in

pet project

where one takes it under one's wing and cares for it. If I were to adopt a pet this is what I would do. Pets are usually warm and fuzzy, and certainly likeable. Peeves less so.

Except for possibly alliteration, why is a peeve, that I must always feel the need to complain about (another searched definition), a pet?

2
  • Somewhat related: hobbyhorse.
    – BCdotWEB
    Jan 4 '16 at 16:31
  • 1
    You know what really grinds my gears?
    – The Cat
    Jan 5 '16 at 11:25
20

Welcome to English, where, on a long enough timeline, all things become their opposite. Case in point, the word epic, which now describes trivial things, like finding your favorite soda in a random corner store...

Pet is a synonym for favorite. Peeve is a synonym for annoyance. As you noted, "your favorite annoyance" seems incongruous. And it is!

This is an example of irony:

IRONY

noun

1.the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect

Pet Peeves tend to be trivial, mundane things that, for all intents and purposes, should not annoy us, but they do, and in ways we cannot explain without sounding finicky or touchy.

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  • 11
    I've never come across the trivial meaning for 'epic' - is this specific to some regions?
    – Eborbob
    Jan 4 '16 at 11:40
  • 7
    It's not incongruous; there exists the idea of a phenomenon (which itself may exist or not, but that doesn't really matter) whereby a person dislikes some annoying thing X, but simultaneously enjoys being annoyed about X (enjoys complaining about it, for example). So a pet peeve may be one of a person's favorite things to complain about.
    – alcedine
    Jan 4 '16 at 14:09
  • 3
    I think we're gonna need some citations for mundane sense of the word "epic". Jan 4 '16 at 15:46
  • 3
    Epic mundanity is part of the trend of superlatives getting overused. How often do people use the word "awesome" for something that is not awe-inspiring?
    – T.J.L.
    Jan 4 '16 at 16:06
  • 1
    A more accurate but less well-known example than epic is egregious: it used to mean "outstanding" in a very positive sense (its Latin roots mean "out from the herd"; it meant "outstanding" even in ancient Rome); today it means "outstandingly bad". However, I think switching between opposites mainly happens with words for good and bad (it even happened to "bad" in 1970s slang). The meaning of "pet" in "pet peeve" is not the opposite of its primary meaning nor of an older meaning. The phrase simply makes an analogy: a source of annoyance cherished as one would a pet.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jul 2 '16 at 18:53
13

Poorly written advertising is my pet peeve. I lavish attention on it, point it out to my friends at every opportunity, and put a great deal of effort and care into its ridicule. I complain about it so much that you might think I enjoy it, just as I would enjoy playing with a beloved pet.

2
  • 1
    Purrfect answer! Seriously, this should be the accepted answer. It explains the analogy exactly and succinctly.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jul 2 '16 at 18:56
  • So do you really enjoy it or not?
    – Kindred
    Nov 22 '18 at 5:21
3

The meaning of pet as used here is:

4) especially liked; favorite

So you could say:

favorite peeve
favorite project

1

Without etymology it's hard to be sure, but the phrase "pet hate" is common as well, as a synonym of "pet peeve". In the UK I would say that "pet hate" is more common than "pet peeve", though not by as much as it used to be. The simple "peeve" without "pet" is not very common as a noun, but is also seen, and again may be less common than it used to be.

Thus "pet peeve" could form by combining the synonyms "pet hate"+"peeve" for emphasis.

Interestingly TFD also gives:

pet² (pĕt) n. A fit of bad temper or pique.

I'm not for a moment claiming this to be a direct influence, but an indirect influence caused by a homonym for one component of the phrase having a similar meaning to the other may help it to become more common.

2
  • The phrase pet peeve is actually a bit of a pet hate of mine -- it seems tautological!
    – Chris H
    Jan 4 '16 at 9:37
  • Hey I like your explanation.
    – Kindred
    Nov 22 '18 at 4:44

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