As the 20th May is World Whisky Day, I thought I would look at this word in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL). DSL supplies a one-word definition (“whisky”) and tells us that it came from Kirkcudbright in 1929.
The term is referenced in a column entitled “What a Scotsman Says” from the Dundee Courier of July 1931:
“‘What is Ackie Peevie?’ Mr Grant [William Grant, an editor of The Scottish National Dictionary, now part of DSL] finds it in Kirkcudbright as recently as 1929, translates it as ‘whisky’, and says it ‘is evidently a hybrid formed on the model of acqua vitae’.”
DSL cites that indirectly and also references the Tinkler Gypsies (1906 edition by Andrew McCormick) to add some more information: peeve means whisky among the Gypsies of Galloway, Perthshire, and Argyllshire. The second element probably derives from Romany péava “to drink” and piva “water”.
Many words from Travellers have been adopted into Scots. Certainly “peeve”, as a general term for alcohol, has. One example comes from the Scots Magazine Volume 15 (1931):
“Ackie-peevie is an old friend of mine, although I am a life abstainer! Forty years ago, I noted it in Stirling where it came from an old slater...”
though the slater was referring to a soft red stone, so that is where the trail goes cold. Research within the Travellers’ community could perhaps enlighten us as to whether this term is still current or, like many venerable and useful Scots words, it has fallen out of general use.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel, Dictionaries of the Scots Language https://dsl.ac.uk.