Alternative formsEdit


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.
    There were several 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.”
    • 1975, Saul Bellow, Humboldt's Gift [Avon ed., 1976, p. 471]:
      They used to tell one about a kid asking his grumpy old man when they were walking to the park, "What's the name of this flower, Papa?" And the old guy is peevish and he yells, "How should I know? Am I in the milinery business?"
  4. (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.
  5. (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.
  6. (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.
  7. (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.
  8. (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.
  9. (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.
  10. (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 termsEdit

Related termsEdit



peevish (not comparable)

  1. (obsolete) 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’.].