Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Peevology and its semantic field

Jan Freeman of The Word (Boston Globe) emailed the other day about her brilliant coinage peevologist. She raises some good questions and (with her permission, of course) I reprint the key part here:
When I used it, I meant to say that not only peeve collectors but also students of peevishness would find rich material in the Telegraph's online collection; and it seems as if the latter deserve the title "peevologist" more than the former. Shouldn't those who collect language peeves, rather than studying them, have a name that reflects the irrational, obsessive side of the pursuit?

Say: Peevotaries /peevepots/ peeve phreaks/ peevomaniacs / peevehounds /peeve puppies/ peeve petters / peevenuts / peevepests /peevewits / peeve peepers / peeveseekers / peeveophiles/ peeverts [I know, too suggestive of other fetishes] / peevehoarders / peeveseekers / peevepickers / peevechasers / peevepreeners / peeverazzi / peevespotters . . . add yours here.
Now, she's raising good questions, surely, but I still think peevologist is spot on — the irony of -ology, hanging there off the back of peeve, the core of what that enterprise is about. Seems perfect. I'd say that there's room for both her groups under the big peevologist tent. Still, putting some shades of meaning into this semantic field seems good. Peeverazzi has a lot of appeal, for example, since it gets at how annoying those folks are and how worthless the substance of what they do. But a bunch more candidates have real promise, and this opens a big window to additional ideas.

So, there, readers: The comments over the last weeks and months have made quite clear that the collective readership of this blog has more horsepower than both F1 Ferrari's in the wind tunnel. Here's a set of more concrete questions:
  • Where should we aim to set the bounds of peevologist? (Here as throughout, of course, usage will rule, but let's think about what we're comfortable with.)
  • Should we add another term to distinguish collectors from students?
  • If so, what's your preference?
Dying to know ...


Anonymous said...

Accept Freeman's distinction, and add peeverazzi to our repertoire. -ologist is awkward for the mere fans, though ...

Wishydig said...

I like that peevologist captures the intention of "those people" to dwell on their peeves and constantly talk about them.

I start feeling like a nag when I call attention to claims about usage that disagree with me. And when a fact is asserted that I haven't accepted I feel an odd duty to my belief to speak up. Human nature of course. Their arguments deserve as as much attention as mine no?

The distinction as I see it is in the object of intended influence. I hope to share (defend?) the view of language as a dynamic system because it always has been and it always will be. As you say: "Accept it." I'm not defending language because it doesn't need my puny fists. It'll take care of itself.

I know plenty of copy editors that are fully aware of their role as editors of one text at a time and who don't claim to be guardians of language. They are not peevologists. They don't feel attacked by mistakes and they don't hope to change all language into one register. They respect decorum and they trust that most users do so as well as they do.

The peevologists are looking to change something that will not change. They seek a power that is not theirs and they express frustration based on a sense of entitlement that is not only arrogant but irrational. They hope to change the rotation of the earth and live with constant frustration, throwing stones at every sunrise and sunset.

I say this reaction is key to the label.

Mr. Verb said...

Nicely said! One important point you make is that the term should be relatively narrowly defined: people tilting at the windmill of 'fixing' or 'saving' language.

Peevologists are really a pretty limited group: They make a lot of noise, get tons of press, but surprisingly few language professionals are in their ranks ... English teachers, copy editors, etc.

Anonymous said...

Having this word is good -- a simple label for the kind of people Wishydig describes is useful.

Peeverazzi is cute, and I'll probably use it in speaking occasionally but peevologist sounds good to me. And I agree that it's got some promise as a WOTY candidate.