Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 18 20:15:41 UTC 2010

Arnold may be more gregarious than I am. In fact, he'd almost have to be.
But I'm quite sure that I learned the expression from print or film, and I
honestly don't believe I've *ever* heard it used in NYC.
And certainly I haven't heard it used in real life by anyone for a good
number of years. (When I did hear it, it was usually - i.e., all dozen or so
times since the '70s - in the emphatic form, "What really gripes my ass

I share Arnold's sense that it is being supplanted or at least surpassed by
the increasing acceptability of "pisses me (off)."  When I was in high
school, "pissed off" was already common, but was not infrequently euphemized
to "P.O.'d."  It's been a long time since I've heard that one, and now "piss
(off)" is virtually an everyday expression everywhere. (I've heard young
middle-class parents use it calmly to and about young children.)

HDAS III, if it existed, would conjecture that "pissed off" comes from "peed
off," a misunderstanding or vulgarization of "peeved (off)."

In any case, "pissed off" is not attested in any form before ca1942.  A
connection with British "browned off" or "brassed off" is conceivable but
seemingly unlikely. Etymology uncertain.  More suggestions?

Note: common British _pissed_ 'drunk' is poorly attested in the U.S. before
ca1980 and is still infrequent.  British _piss off_ 'go away' is likewise
recent and infrequent here.  I suspect that what currency they each have
comes significantly from exposure to British rock culture.


On Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 1:36 PM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: gripe
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Oct 18, 2010, at 10:06 AM, Jon Lighter wrote:
> >
> > As HDAS reveals, to "gripe someone" has been pretty frequent at the slang
> > level in the 20th Century. (First ex., 1927). The usual nuance, however,
> is
> > "to anger or annoy," generally with an inanimate subject.
> (i'd gloss it roughly as 'piss someone off', but without the taboo tinge.)
> the usage is natural for me, so natural that i have no idea how long i've
> been saying it.  but i *have* had the experience of it causing other people
> to break out in asterisks, so that i've been aware for some time that it's
> not exactly widespread.
> >
> > My experience tends to confirm that it is has not been common in the
> > Northeast.  It may be a little old-fashioned these days.
> no idea what its geographical/social distribution is like.
> my own linguistic experience was all in (various parts of) the Northeast
> until i was 25. of course that was a long time ago.
> arnold
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