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A discussion of pet peeves on a LinkedIn site for professional copy editors provoked some thought about the whole peculiar pet peeve phenomenon.

To get this out of the way first, the discussion itself was worthless.

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Item: Someone, inevitably, is disturbed by "x items or less."

Item: One contributor is exercised over like as a filler in spoken English, and another decries uhh and other nonverbal sounds.

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Item: The responder who points out that like and uhh aren't really issues of grammar is instead distressed by misplaced apostrophes, an issue in spelling, not grammar.

Item: One contributor is upset over the "misplacement of only," by which I take that she holds to the only fetish, which Jan Freeman has demolished.

Item: There is widespread distress over the lie/lay confusion, and I don't think the participants would appreciate being told that that game is likely no longer worth the candle.

Oh, my people.

Even if one accepts the loose sense of grammar as language, usage, and writing generally, all of this is suspect on its face.

It is perhaps more interesting to inquire why people would be keen to parade such minor, and often unfounded, objections. After all, a peeve is a vexation or grievance, and to be peevish is to be querulous or ill-tempered. Hardly an attitude for which one should congratulate oneself.

I have suggested elsewhere that language snobbery is the English major's claim to status, lacking high birth, wealth, fame, or power. And indulging in these otherwise pointless bouts of peeving surely serves the purpose of reinforcing solidarity, confirming the illusion that one is a member of a stout-hearted band of the civilized, resisting the incursions of barbarism to the last ditch.

Public proclamation of pet peeves rises, I think, from a set of misapprehensions, which I have tried to spell out.

Misapprehensions

That written language is primary and spoken language is a sloppy corruption. It's the other way around. Spoken language is primary, and shifts over time in grammar and semantics determine what is standard in the written language.

That what your mother or grammar school teacher or first editor told you about language is sound and perpetually true, obviating any necessity of consulting authorities or paying attention to empirical evidence

That going on in this manner establishes one's credentials as a professional editor, rather than indicating to the public that editors are people obsessed with trifles and inconsequential resentments.

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That indulging in peeve-swapping improves professionalism generally, rather than merely reinforcing a ragbag of shibboleths and superstitions.

That anyone in particular cares, or should, what your pet peeves are.

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