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.