Last year, over at Stan Carey’s Sentence first, I jovially commented, in response to one of those “Let’s try to preserve the English language” people, “Congratulations, I think you’ve filled out your Peever’s Bingo card completely!” Now Stan has taken that idea and run with it, producing an actual Bingo card with entries running from “literally” to “comma splices.” As he says:

I’ve avoided common misspellings and variant pronunciations, but you could easily compile cards based on those, too – or a set of completely different usage peeves.* As for this table, Scott [Huler] notes ironically that which ones are important is an “obvious question, with the obvious answer: the ones I personally think are important”.

The card can be used for drinking games, but (obviously) at one’s own risk.


  1. 24* out of 25 are familiar to me; in most cases I have a delicious love/hate relationship with these peeves. But what are “flat adverbs”?
    * I know that according to some people I should never start a sentence with a number written that way.

  2. A flat adverb is an adverb without an adverbial ending. Examples include: walk fast, go slow, treat them rough, run late. They are mostly monosyllables and are derived from adjectives with the original adverbial ending -e, lost in the general decay of -e in late Middle English days.

  3. Thank you, John. I often find myself running late, but I haven’t run lately, because of the general decay of my knees in my own late Middle Age days.

  4. Ah, yes. I try to use Americanisms, especially those which were common in Common English, initial conjunctions, and less with count nouns on a regular basis, verbing, nouning, inconsistent whoming, singular they, and the Oxford comma, although I rarely find a good place for split infinitives…

  5. Singular they: I once read some financial/legal advice that was made nonsense by the use of singular they. The trustees were plural, the settlor was singular but the idiot writer used “they” to refer to the settlor; at least that’s what he seemed to have done. As with many a cock-up, you’re left guessing at what was meant.
    Some of the peeves may be taken as a sign that the user is uneducated, cloth-eared, or dim: unless he wants to appear such, he might be wise to avoid them.
    Among the problems that arise when Britons use Americanisms is that the same word may have a different meaning in Brenglish (e.g. “moot”), so that the speaker then risks confusing his audience, or sounding like a pretentious prat.
    Careful positioning of “only” sometimes does make English more accurate, or less ambiguous, though I suppose you could argue that if the position of “only” matters a lot the author should rewrite his sentence anyway.

  6. Some of the peeves may be taken as a sign that the user is uneducated, cloth-eared, or dim: unless he wants to appear such, he might be wise to avoid them.
    I suppose you mean he should avoid peeving but it’s not clear, dearie.

  7. uneducated, cloth-eared, or dim
    This is a list of the kind I like: a list of attributes that seem related, but are in fact mutually independent. An uneducated person is not necessarily dim, for example, and may not be cloth-eared. A cloth-eared person may be educated and bright. And so on.
    The Bedingungen der Möglichkeit of peevery are countless. If Kant had thought about this, he wouldn’t have bothered to write the Critic of Pure Reason.

  8. @Stu: the potential independence is implied by the “or”.
    @AJP: the only plural noun for the “them” to refer to is “peeves”. Still, writing is an experiment – if a reader misunderstands it’s usually wise to rewrite.
    And hopefully irregardless I could literally care less since I am not decimated by your decision to nearly uniquely utilise over one snark’s centred around issues that I’m good with.
    By the by, why no peeve about “in excess of” rather than “more than”? Or “significant” instead of “large”? Or ….

  9. Is the peeve about the Oxford comma because people use it, or because they dont ? Oxford Dictionaries online say:
    Not all writers and publishers use it, but it can clarify the meaning of a sentence when the items in a list are not single words:
    These items are available in black and white, red and yellow, and blue and green.
    This seems eminently reasonable to me. (I would get a full house fairly quickly on the Bingo card…)

  10. dearie: the potential independence is implied by the “or”
    Yes, but implication is weak stuff. The words you chose are in fact independent of each other, regardless of implicatory trimmings – something not always the case with or-users. If you must have it put bluntly, I was expressing appreciation of your sentence.

  11. Bless ‘ee, Sir.

  12. Oh, pluural them.
    Kant had a pet Peeve, I think a fox terrier.

  13. marie-lucie says

    I don’t remember encountering “cloth-eared” before. It makes me think of Eeyore and similar animals. What do others say?

  14. Marie-Lucie: Cloth-eared is quite familiar to me. Cambridge Dict. says it “describes someone who has not heard or understood what is being said to them”, so by extension, stupid or “thick” or just inattentive. Presumably from “ears stuffed up with cloth” so can’t hear, or as you say, from toy animals.
    One source says: The earliest recorded use of the exact phrase ‘cloth ears’ is in a book by C Mackenzie called Carnival published in 1912.
    I have no idea if that is correct. Google Translate renders it as “tissu des marais.” The only trace of that I can find is in a review of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, which says:
    Une semblable «mise en garde humoristique» est apparu sur l’album Amarok Oldfield, qui a mis en garde: Le présent compte rendu peut être dangereux pour la santé des nigauds tissu des marais.
    Is that the equivalent ?

  15. We must distinguish cloth-eared from mutton-headed, Paul.

  16. I’ve heard “cloth-eared” somewhere (where?), and I find that I have been thinking of it as having to do with ears made out of cloth, rather than ears stopped up with cloth. I also find that I associate it with “tin-eared”. Wrongly: they don’t seem to mean the same. But what does tin have to do with hearing?

  17. A tin drum makes a clang and racket, thus “tinnitus”. A bronze bell provides a sonorous call to arms, thus “bellifluous”.

  18. Crown: Kant had a pet Peeve, I think a fox terrier.
    Kant had many pet Peeves, but no dog I think. He himself was rather dogmatic in a groundbreaking sort of way, deploying lots of fishy arguments. Schopenhauer was given to carping and cattiness, yet kept a pet poodle he named Atma.

  19. @dearieme
    @AJP: the only plural noun for the “them” to refer to is “peeves”.
    It was clear which word was the referent. The thing that was not clear (or at least was not clear at first glance, or at least was fun to pretend to misunderstand) was whether by “peeves” you meant “things being complained about” or “acts of complaining”.*
    It’s also almost a matter of usage vs mentionage.
    * There, just for you I have put the full stop outside the quotation instead of putting the period inside the quote.

  20. I didn’t mean to type that “also”. Should have had my morning coffee first. If Hat gets around to cutting it out, that will be fine with me.

  21. Cheap Hair Wefts says

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  22. empty: It’s also almost a matter of usage vs mentionage.
    In younger years I believed that to distinguish between use and mention was to identify a special, important feature of communication – a kind of “type hierarchy” that can be invoked to clear up misunderstandings. Much later, it occurred to me that mentioning is a particular kind of using, and there is no hierarchy involved.
    So the distinction is like that between data and metadata – more or less useful but nothing to write home about, really. Metadata is data about data things, data is data about anything including data.
    A writer using quotes and subscripts, say, to distinguish mentions from uses will be understood only by readers who already know how to use quotes and subscripts in that way. If I am getting this right, you can’t even explain what “use” means without mentioning it.

  23. Nor what “mention” means without using it.

  24. I hereby refer all questions on this to Empty. When I looked again at my comment I couldn’t see what I was talking about, but now I do again. In his defense, but perhaps not much, dearie is a way better writer than I am. And now, here is an ambiguously worded sentence. You’d think people would bother to proof read their own slogans.

  25. Stu, if I write “Thanks, that was useful!” will you reply “Don’t mention it”?
    I should point out that I didn’t really think dearieme’s ambiguous utterance involved use vs mention in the usual sense. The distinction is not between using the word “peeves” to mean peeves and using the word “peeves” to mean “instances of the word ‘peeve'”. Rather it is between using an expression X (that someone disapproves of) and mentioning that one disapproves of X.
    As a peever who has tried to reform himself, I have a little trouble letting go of the idea that the word “usage” should not be simply, um, used as a bloated synonym for “use”, but rather should be reserved for special, um, uses, as in the title of Fowler’s book.
    I would also like to just mention that I can’t think of a half-decent pun on cats and the categorical imperative.

  26. Most cats are imperious, some imperatives are categorical.

  27. That was not intended to be a pun, but merely an aide-mémoire.

  28. The weakness of the categorical imperative is to be found in its dogmatism. – Wittgenstein.

  29. We mention “our gigantic nuclear arsenal” in order not to use it. –Doug Hofstadter

  30. Kant claimed he was woken from dogmatic slumber by reading Hume. But to judge from all the stuff Kant went on to write, he was only cat-napping at the time, and went doggedly back to sleep as soon as possible.

  31. The best ambiguity I’ve seen in ages was Jim Watson’s book title “Avoid Boring People”.
    Re cloth-eared; perhaps I should have said tin-eared anyway.
    “There, just for you I have put the full stop outside the quotation instead of putting the period inside the quote.” Grunt of appreciation.

  32. The Google translation “tissu des marais” for “cloth-eared” is typical Google nonsense; I just can’t figure out where the sense “des marais” for “-eared” could possibly have come from.

  33. marie-lucie says

    Neither can I, bruessel.
    I thought that there might have been a plant called “cloth ears”, or “cloth-eared X” from its fuzzy leaves, but that does not seem to be right. The Urban Dictionary says “cloth-eared” comes from the infamous textile mills: workers were deafened from the noise, and cotton dust accumulated in their ears. Perhaps, or not.
    The sentence given by Google Translate ends with la santé des nigauds tissu des marais which must be a translation of “the health of cloth-eared fools”. Un nigaud is one of the possible translations of fool. The only problem is how to translate “cloth-eared”. GT starts with the word for ‘cloth’, then tries for ‘eared’.
    Un tissu is any kind of woven cloth, no problem there, but tissu des marais would mean ‘cloth of/from the marshes’, or more likely ‘marsh cloth’, a noun, not an adjective like ‘cloth-eared’. There seems to be no conceivable connection between ear(s) and marshes.
    But wait! “eared” and “des marais” might both occur as descriptives in the English and French names of the same thing, such as a plant or aquatic bird, so that English “eared X” is the equivalent of French “X des marais”, although “eared” and “des marais” have nothing in common individually. I tried a few possibilities in vain, but I am not extremely well informed in those topics. Perhaps one of you will know what X could be.

  34. marie-lucie: But wait! …
    That’s an interesting idea. I find in the internet that ear appearance is used to designate even birds sometimes, for instance the short-eared owl. I was reminded that “boobies” are a type of bird, and some of them live in marshlands. Gooogle may be associating the word with nigauds. Google-watching as a variant of bird-watching !
    As an aside: boobies makes one think of tits, for instance the marsh tit. The French call this bird mésange nonnette. The French WiPe says some of them make a “titchê” sound, which I suppose goes a short way towards accounting for the English designation “tit”. The English WiPe on the marsh tit says the typical sound is an explosive “pitchou” note.
    Marsh tit miscellany:

    La Mésange nonnette zinzinule. Son chant est mélodieux, une sorte de roulade.

    Its performances in the bushes and branches are just as neat and agile as those of other tits; it often hangs upside down by one leg.

  35. Marsh, or possibly bog?

  36. The bogland Loony.

  37. Some suggestions: Black-necked Grebe a.k.a. Eared Grebe (link, link, link); Loon (link, link).

  38. Ngram viewer shows no “cloth-eared” before 1950 and no “cloth ears” before 1888.
    It appears that in Belfast there is a pub (or rather an expensive pub-style restaurant in a hotel) called The Cloth Ear.
    Google Translate renders “cloth-eared” in Italian as “panno di palude” and also renders “panno di palude” in English as “cloth-eared”.

  39. (It renders “cloth-eared” in French as “tissu de marais”, but renders “tissu de marais” in English as “cloth marsh”.)

  40. (correction: “des marais” and “cloth marshes”)

  41. marie-lucie says

    I too first thought of a grebe or other bird. The point is that I did not find one that had “eared” in the English name and “des marais” in French (but I did not search very far).
    “Tissu des marais” would be ‘marsh cloth’ not ‘cloth marsh(es)’ which would be “marais de tissu”.
    I think that Google gets its Italian version in exactly the same way as its French version: panno = ‘cloth’, di = “de” ‘of’, palude = “marais” ‘marsh, swamp’. Then having translated “cloth-eared” as panno di palude, it retranslates panno di palude as ‘cloth-eared’. I wonder if Google “consulted” from one language to another and translated the French version into Italian?
    I looked up “Italian dictionary” on Google. The first entry is a Dizionario inglese-italiano from WordReference. I entered “cloth-eared” and got sordo,a (= masc sordo, fem sorda), which means ‘deaf’ (cf French sourd(e)).
    The French version of this dictionary does not recognize “cloth-eared” but mentions the Google translation! Readers can consult a forum but I am not sure how to proceed.
    Anyway, for “cloth-eared fools” I would suggest des nigauds aux oreilles bouchées, literally ‘of fools with stopped-up ears’. But this is a retranslation, since the English sentence in which the phrase appears is itself a translation from a French original.

  42. I want to somehow get the Field of the Cloth of Gold, le Camp du Drap d’Or in this fred, but I can’t find a reason.

  43. Aha! I’ve just seen that if you go to the French version of Wikipedia, the “short-eared owl” mentioned by Grumbly is in fact called “hibou des marais”. (Sorry, don’t know how to do links). So marie-lucie, you were quite right and this is what must have happened: some machine decided that “short-eared” = “des marais”, and somehow the “short” fell by the wayside.

  44. marie-lucie says

    Grand merci, bruessel! Félicitations! I wouldn’t have thought that owls lived in marshes or swamps, but at least one of them does.
    Now, how to let Google Translate and WordReference know?

  45. I was so close to the answer yesterday! I googled “eared marsh” and found, among things, photos of short-eared owls flying over marshes. At that point I should have inquired into the French name of the bird, but I didn’t think of it. (slaps head)

  46. marie-lucie says

    Ø , you are eligible for the consolation prize.

  47. Thanks, but — *slaps head again* — I refuse to be consoled.

  48. If you keep up that head-slapping, Empty, you may wind up cloth-eared indeed.

  49. clout-eared, at least

  50. empty: I googled “eared marsh”
    There’s a music festival called L’oreille du marais

  51. vrai cabecou says

    My peeve: you can’t use that as bingo card – it’s too wide.

  52. @marie-lucie:

    Now, how to let Google Translate and WordReference know?

    You can simply click on the mistranslated term/expression to get an edit box where you can contribute a better one. You can also rate the translation offered by Google using the small green tick mark at the bottom right of the translation box.
    Both of these are quick-and-dirty fixes. If you want to contribute in more detail, there’s always the Google Translator Toolkit, where you can upload translation memories and parallel texts.
    (Incidentally, Google Translate also botches the Spanish, but only by being too literal: a ‘paño de orejas’, the offered translation, would be an ear-cloth, not a cloth-eared person.)

  53. marie-lucie says

    Thanks for the information, Alon, I will try that.

  54. The earliest recorded use of the exact phrase ‘cloth ears’ is in a book by C Mackenzie called Carnival published in 1912.

    The earliest use of the phrase ‘cloth-eared’ I can find is also from 1912 (The Outlook: A Weekly Review of Politics, Art, Literature, and Finance, Feb. 10, 1912, p. 214): “Mr. Thomas says Maeterlinck’s plays are not lyrical drama, but lyric dramatised: certainly to those who are not cloth-eared by much listening for ‘meanings’ they come with the same poignant and unanalysable quality of appeal.”

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