What the Heck are “Peeps”?

By Maeve Maddox

This innocent question from ladysheila has led me a merry chase down etymological byways:

What is the definition of peep, or rather what exactly does it mean in regards to all social media, etc., well, everything? I have looked in the dictionary and have gotten the expected definitions, to look, and one definition for people. I have heard a few people refer to, I think, their audience, as peeps. When did this originate and why? What is the correct usage in this regard?

I won’t repeat everything I learned along the way, but here’s some of it.

The verb peep meaning a soft, high-pitched sound like that of a baby chick has been in the language since 1400. The noun came along a little later, with the meaning “a slight sound.”

The noun peep, meaning “a glance,” especially through a narrow opening, dates from 1460. Peep in this sense may come from the same word as peek, ME piken, “to look quickly and slyly.”

So much for the traditional meanings of peep.

Here are some uses of the word on the web:

1. Reviews – Hal’s Book “The Peep Diaries”
2. Peep My New Weather Widget.
3. BeautyDialogues: Happy Easter all you Peeps

The Peep Diaries is by Hal Niedzviecki, a Facebook junkie. He invited his 700 Facebook “friends” to a real-time party, but only one showed up. He defines the networking phenomenon peep culture:

Peep culture is reality TV, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace and Facebook. It’s blogs, chat rooms, amateur porn sites, virally spread digital movies . . .

The second example uses peep in the sense of “check this out.”

In the third headline, peeps is the plural of a noun “peep” meaning “person.”

I haven’t been able to track down a date of origin for the use of peep to mean “person.” As for “the correct usage in this regard,” the word belongs to the realm of slang. I can’t think of any context in which it could be considered to be correct. One can hope that in time it will dwindle into disuse.

As for the expanded uses of peep in the senses of looking and voyeurism, they seem to me to be reasonable adaptations of the word.

Our ESL readers may find the following “peep” expressions of interest:

peeping Tom: a pruriently prying person. The expression is commonly linked to the story of Lady Godiva.
not a peep: not a sound, not a word. Sit down and be quiet, said his mother. I don’t want to hear another peep out of you.
the peep of dawn: the first sign of light in the morning. The fisherman rose at the peep of dawn.
peep show: “a display viewed through a small hole” Such displays are used in museums to show off miniature objects or tiny dioramas. The most popular connotation of peep show, however, is a sexual display of some kind, viewed surreptitiously.
peephole: a small opening in a doorway that allows a person inside to see who’s on the other side of the door. All rental units must have one.
Peeps: marshmallow candies shaped like chicks and other animals or shapes. They’re most prevalent at Easter, but are also produced for other holidays. According to Wikipedia, they are made from marshmallow, sugar, gelatin and carnauba wax.

You can read the first chapter of The Peep Diaries on the O site.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


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19 Responses to “What the Heck are “Peeps”?”

  • JoAnna

    I think we just got lazy at some point in time and just shortened “people” to “peep.” I guess the thinking was, why use two syllables when one will do?

  • Robyn Broyles

    OK, I know this is technically a folk etymology, but “peeps” derives from “people.” Its exact meaning depends on context; it can be refer to one’s regular audience (as with a blogger or Twitter user), one’s circle of friends, or team working toward a common goal. Affection is always implied. I would say that also refers to a wider group than just one’s most intimate family and friends.

    “A big shout-out to all my peeps!” is slang for, “I’m offering acknowledgement to my readers/friends/helpers.”

    The usage you cited, “BeautyDialogues: Happy Easter all you Peeps,” is also a pun referring to the marshmallow chicks called Peeps in the U.S. that are available around Easter.

  • Carolyn Hurt

    I agree with Robyn as to its origin possibly deriving from “people.” Before I ever heard “peeps” I heard “peoples” used as affectionate slang for a group of people. I do not have documentation for that, but heard it many times. When I first heard “peeps” it was in the same context, and I just assumed it was the shorter version.

  • nutmeag

    Isn’t it just a shortened version of “people”? So I would think it could be used in any context that “people” would be used. It’s not spelled the same because shortenings are usually spelled phonetically. Like “natch” being short for “naturally.”

    And you forgot one definition of “peep,” though I don’t think this one is denoted in any dictionary: Peeps is slang for “Parasite Positives” in the Scott Westerfeld novels about vampire-like infected people.

  • Brad K.

    Peeps are the sounds my new chicks made. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it, Y’all.

  • Baraka

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/radio/specials/1453_uptodate3/page17.shtml

  • Mark Cornwell

    I believe the origin may be relatively recent. The first I can ever remember it being used was in Saturday Live on Channel 4 in the UK around 1986. Harry Enfield (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Enfield) had a character called Stavros (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mYssEXILjc). That clip shows a typical sketch starting with the phrase, “hello everybody peeps.”

    In my area it was soon common for the teenagers (like me at the time) to greet one another, “hello everybody peeps,” which soon was shortened to, ” ‘ello peeps,” (usually said in an accent to match the character).

    Clearly the guy at the BBC never watched Channel 4 😉

  • grumpyoneuk

    over here in the UK we have a comedian Harry Enfield (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Enfield). In the late ’90’s he had a character called “Stavros The Greek” who had an interesting interpretation of the English language. This character appeared frequently on a Friday night TV programme aimed at an audience of 18 – 30i’sh year old viewers and Stavros always referred to people as “peeps”. Inevitably this started to appear in the workplace…

  • Emma

    And, if you’ve got young children in the UK, you might know that The Hoobs call children “Tiddlypeeps” (i.e. little people)
    http://www.channel4.com/learning/microsites/H/hoobs/parents/sub2.html

  • Maeve

    Wow.
    Peeps is more widespread than I realized.

    I rather like Tiddlypeeps.

  • Sheila

    You answered that question so quickly! I am delighted. Once again, it’s a joy to be in the company of those that share your sentiment. Though keeping journals for my entire life, I am only a few months into writing for others, blogging, etc. My blog of several months has taken a back seat to my daughters tragic accident, so am trying to set up a different type for her and others, and again, I couldn’t live without this website. I need all the help I can get and appreciate any input. Thank you so much for your type of humor, which I can’t quickly categorize. Your statement regarding peeps as a reference to people:

    “I can’t think of any context in which it could be considered to be correct. One can hope that in time it will dwindle into disuse.

    Anything that makes me laugh these days is truly remarkable.
    P. S. I would love to have you really try to categorize types of humor, if possible. I have tried. Difficult topic.

  • Don Maynard

    I LIKE the word “peeps”. It has a certain feel of derision that is probable not intended by the peeps who use it. It is deprecatory and the association with the little marshmallow animals adds an air of the ridiculous. The image comes to mind of baby chickens peeping in enthusiasm at the feet of the bloggers.

    “We the peeps of the United States…”

    “Peeps. Peeps who need peeps are the luckiest peeps in the world.”

    “You may fool all the peeps some of the time, you can even fool some of the peeps all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the peeps all the time.”

  • spike1

    On the subject of Stavros, Friday night live/saturday live in the mid ’80s wasn’t his first appearance.

    Harry Enfield also provided voices for Spitting Image and the first appearance of the greek kebab shop owner was a couple of years earlier in latex form. Admittedly, he was called Bubulos in that sketch, but it was basically the same character.

  • ellen

    Peeps is/was teenage slang for people, meaning friends

  • Timberwolf

    I just want to know what happened to the English Language that we have to shorten it, PEOPLE shorten words and they sound like a bunch of Idiots!

  • Kim

    I heard the term “peeps” used in a Dragnet 1970 episode. The term was even difined as family or close friends and was used by a hippy character.
    So it has been around for a lot longer then the /90’s.

  • Dick

    Did the author of the article actually miss the point or wished the point away with a derisive comment? I think so.

    Peeps is “my people” – as Ladysmith hinted at but then the article went on to gave short shrift to the Facebook generation where peeps is “in” and probably here to stay. I just used it referring to my fellow retiree buds.

  • one adam 12

    I like the old school peeps.

  • John Smith

    You will see it in some older popularist (early socialist/communist) literature as an intentional manufactured contraction of the word people. The intention was as a diminutive nickname to convey the political connotation that the established political powers of aristocracy and money saw the undistinguished masses of people as the “little people” or unimportant people.

    Popularist literature attempted to identify (with) those peeps and show how they could be their own source of power…but only if the peeps act together and enforced their own standards and principles of the peeps.

    Not sure but I sort recollect Orwell’s 1984 may have been the most common reference before rappers start talking about all their peeps.

    Stealing phrasing off the US constitution the idea was “for the peeps and by the peeps” but excluding any standards of living or status above the peeps. A peeps movement is very grass roots or lowest common denominator oriented.

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