Peers and Piers

By Maeve Maddox

More proof that traditional literature is in a state of neglect is the frequent occurrence of the spelling piers when the context calls for peers.

I really hope i will [win something] because I have a BIG presentation coming up and that mouse would really impress my piers!

And to set the record straight I am not going on safari for that as the sole purpose. I’d still like to bring home some trophies to brag about and impress my piers!

I’ve listened to the Beatles songs. They were all right, but nothing to impress my piers.

I was a child and wanted to do things that would impress my piers.

I never really thought much about my life until I was in my thirties. Before that time, I was too busy trying to move up the corporate ladder, impress my piers, prove that I was intelligent and go through school.

I have many goals but one of them would be to work or produce a project that would truly impress my piers.

I don’t skate/snowboard to make friends and impress my piers.

I found most of these examples in forums and comments where correct expression is not a priority, but one is from a site offering services for sale, and one is from a poem.

In each of these examples the word wanted is peers.

A peer is a person equal in standing to another. The word comes from Latin par, “equal.” In some contexts it means “noble.” The expression “peer of the realm,” means a member of the aristocracy. The peerage is a system that classifies the aristocracy by rank and title. A woman who belongs to the peerage is a peeress.

In general usage a peer is an equal. The state of equality may be civil, economic, or social. Citizens accused of a crime are to be tried by “a jury of their peers.”

The “equality” can also lie in the area of skill or ability. An extremely gifted craftsman or athlete can be said to “have no peer.”

In French medieval literature, the “twelve peers” are twelve heroic knights like those of the Round Table in the Arthurian tales. In the Song of Roland, the twelve peers include Roland, Oliver, Bishop Turpin, and the traitor Ganelon.

A pier is a vertical support. The structure that supports a bridge is a pier. Cathedrals are built with piers that support the tremendous weight of roof and towers.

Piers are inanimate. They are incapable of feeling admiration so there’s no point in trying to impress them.

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8 Responses to “Peers and Piers”

  • Cecily

    The definition of pier is not quite complete, at least for British English. All your definitions are true, but we also use the word for a structure leading out to sea and used as a landing stage for boats or as a place of entertainment (like half a bridge). For example: http://www.itraveluk.co.uk/photos/data/557/medium/brighton-pier.jpg.

    In your investigations, was it a one-way error or did you also find instances of people writing about bridges with ancient peers?

  • Emma

    I’d agree with Cecily – the minute I read “piers” I was thinking of structures at the seaside 🙂

    I’ve also seen students including “pears” into the mix; again, I guess a case of the spell checker stepping in & perhaps someone who’s not a native speaker knowing how to spell “ear” & putting a “p” at the start … not realising that it changes the sound the “ea” makes.

  • Carson Brackney

    Some of our peers need to take long walks off short piers!

  • spike1

    Piers are more than just your definition.
    The entire construction can be referred to as a pier if it happens to jut out into the sea. So it’s not “supporting a bridge”, it’s the thing as a whole, boardwalk, theaters, amusement arcades, fairground rides and candyfloss stalls included.

    For a fine example, southport pier is, iirc, the second longest in england.
    Though most seaside resorts that had their hayday in the victorian era have at least one. Blackpool has 3.

  • Maeve

    Sorry, guys.

    I suppose I should have included a definition of the the seaside pier, but I was more concerned about illustrating the difference between piers and peers than in exploring all the possible meanings of pier.

    The word pier can also be used to mean

    a block of building stone
    a gatepost
    a support for a telescope or other large instrument
    any of various supporting structures in the body
    a sheltered harbour or haven

    and

    a narrow structure resembling a long corridor, projecting from the main body of an airport terminal and incorporating passenger boarding gates and loading stations.

    Oh yes, Piers is also a form of the name Peter, as in Piers Plowman.

    My posts are intended as writing tips, not scholarly treatises. If exhaustive lists of definitions are wanted, I recommend the OED.

  • Moomrik

    Fascinating.

    Oh, and Emma, there is a fallacy in your reasoning which may prove to be misleading to those of us unfortunate non-native speakers who are not too familiar with laws of phonetics…

    As someone who perhaps is not “not a native speaker” (as I assume you are) you should know that “putting a ‘p’ at the start” does not really change the sound the ‘ea’ makes…

    Peachy peacocks pealed peas and peanuts and then disappeared in an appealing fashion…

  • dnass

    “impress my piers” yields 438 hits on Google, while the correctly spelled version yields 34,000. I hardly think this constitutes “proof that traditional literature is in a state of neglect.”

  • Beverly McEntee

    I wrote a poem for my husband’s 90th birthday and sent out the invitations. Much to my chagrin, one of my sisters asked me why I spelled
    PIERS the way I did. Having had spelling classes for years, I can’t believe that I made this error. However, as my husband is English and a direct descendant of a prominent englishman who sailed the seas into Plymouth, Mass, I wonder if there is anyway to defend my slip of the pen to my invited guests. The poem went like this: “We’re having a party, a big birthday party–we certainly hope you can come. We’re honoring Roger who’s never a dogger, at 90 his life’s just begun. You must wear a cloak, and I mean it, no joke, for attire is A # 1. You’ll be judged by your piers, no worries no fears, It’s time for some old-fashioned fun. I hope that the alternate spelling can be justified as British English! Thanks for any help or explanation you can give me that I could pass on!

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