Got the Pip?

Every morning I receive an email from wordsmith.org about a different word. They discuss all kinds of weird and wonderful words, their meanings and derivations, with lots of good examples. It’s a fun thing to read with my first cup of tea of the day.

This morning’s word was ‘pip’ – a tiny word that has a truly startling number of meanings, not all of which were familiar to me. In fact, there are so many meanings that the writer of the emails – Anu Garg (can that really be her(?) name?) – missed one and got herself hung up on the shoals of antipodean slang. She used a headline from a New Zealand newspaper to illustrate the following meaning:

MEANING:
noun:
1. The small seed of a fruit, such as an apple or an orange.
2. Something or someone wonderful.

ETYMOLOGY:
Short for pippin, from Anglo-French pepin. Earliest documented use: c. 1450.

USAGE:
“Chairman Ian Palmer is spitting pips.”
Jon Morgan; Apple Growers Get the Pip as the Bite Goes on Prices; The Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand); Nov 5, 2010.

To take this literally, as being only about apple pips, is to miss the main significance of both quote and headline. In New Zealand ‘to get (or have) the pip’ is a bit of slang which means ‘to sulk, to be annoyed’. It’s often used to refer to small children’s tantrums, so it carries the connotation that you’re over-reacting to something trivial. And apparently the ‘to sulk’ meaning is a New Zealand oddity. The ‘spitting pips’ phrase reinforces the angry motif because it’s a play on ‘spitting tacks.’ Therefore, both the quote and the headline aren’t about pips per se, but are a punning way of saying that everyone is pissed off. All in all, a clever way of using the different meanings of ‘pip,’ especially if you’re fond of a pun.

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