Meaning of "I am in a pet"


I only know that an English word “Pet” means animals to be petted.
I found this sentense in my dictonary.

"I am (or She is, whoever) in a pet.

According to the dictionary,
it means “I feel bad or I am angry.”
How come?
And what is the core meaning or origin of the wrod “pet”?


Anothere dictionary says:

“get in a pet” means “get the sulks”

But “sulk” means to be silently angry and refuse to be friendly
or discuss what is annoying or upsetting you.

To me it seems totally different from “Pet”.!!!


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I have never heard this use of the word “pet” in my entire life, and I can’t find any example of it on Google. It doesn’t make sense to me either, so if I were you I’d just ignore it, and I would be very suspicious of that dictionary.

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Hi Jamie and Phoo,

My home e-dictionary also provided me with ‘to be in a pet/ to take(the) pet meaning ‘to have the sulks’,’ to be in the sulks’ . It would be better to use ‘beast’ instead of ‘pet’ :slight_smile: (Just a joke!)

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Hi Phoo

I’ve never heard ‘pet’ used this way either – even though this definition does appear in both American and British dictionaries.

I did a search of the BNC got only one single result in which ‘pet’ appears to be used this way.

If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about this definition.

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Thanks everyone!

It sounds as if I’d better ignore it
and put the effort on something else,
someting more meanigful.

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Surely it is very useful to know unusual expressions like that…


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It occurs to me that this use of ‘pet’ may well be a corruption of ‘being petulant’. ‘Petulant’ describes a mood where you are irritable or impatient.


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I have learned a new English word!! Yee-ha!
Actually, the disaster was a blessing in disguise! haha

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Hi, I have included a picture with this but I’m not sure if it will get through or not. If not, let me know and I could email it to you.

You have all fathomed it out right. “In a pet” means to be in a petulant mood - stroppy, moody and stamping one’s little foot ! My parents, my grandparents and my great grandparents all used it. I may be guilty of using it myself! It’s origins are in the Victorian era, and the postcard I have attached comes from an enterprising studio based in England at the end of the 19th century. On the card you will see the title at the bottom “in a pet” and the studio name and locations at the top. This particular photo was taken in London I believe.

So there, I think, is the positive proof and the photographic evidence - my age and how I know all this?? Just don’t ask !!! But hope it helps!

Steve Essex Spaniel

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I had never heard of “in a pet” for “sulking” either till it appeared just now in a New York Times crossword I’m working on. I can see from other postings here, the “pet” part is probably a shortened form of “petulant”, i.e., “petulant mood.” This illustrates just how ephemeral slang can be.

Could be, also, the social sin of sulking is less frowned upon than it once was, or that ruder terms might be applied to someone who sulks.

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Abraham Lincoln used “in a pet” in a letter in the 1840s.

“I have always said that Mr. Everett is a very clever fellow, and I amvery sorry that he cannot be obliged; but it does seem to me that he ought to know that we are interested to collect his claim, and would therefore do it if we could. I am neither jaking nor in a pet when I saw we would thank him to transfer his business to some other, without any compensation for what we have done, provided he will pay the court costs for which we are security.”

I suspect the term was more popular in an earlier era that it is at present, possibly because extreme petulance seems to be the normal course of behavior for so many people these days.

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Re Steve Thomas entry!
Hi Steve. Well done on your research. That is amazing! Since reading your post I have found the letter and read it completely - from Lincoln to Joshua Speed March 27, 1842.
There was me thinking it was an English Victorian expression! Not so, or certainly not exclusively it seems!

I can only reiterate well done and thank you! I wonder if anyone can find an earlier example?
Steve E (Essex Spaniel)

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Thank you for your kind words, but actually, I approached it from the opposite direction. I ran across the letter first, and in googling for greater understanding, found this thread.

I’m in the process of reading William Herndon’s “Herndon’s Lincole”, an 1888 memoir/biography. Herndon worked with Lincoln for decades, so this book is partly based on Herndon’s own memories. He’s collected a lot from periodicals, and letters to/from people Lincoln knew. No question but that it’s a favorable depiction, for Herndon was a friend, but there are surprisingly many warts uncovered in Lincoln’s depiction.

And the book isn’t in the dry, scholarly prose of so many biographies, but is warm and chatty, like a letter from Aunt Agatha filled with all the family gossip. Lincoln was a lousy scholar, he points out, and he would study a point of law only when it appeared it was pivotal to a case. He was a terrible manager, lazy, and until he married Mary Todd, wasn’t inclined to raise himelf out of poverty. His strength seems to be that he was a great storyteller, and would alter the tales he told to make a point.

I’ve taken, in recent months, to reading Kindle books on computer rather than on my Kindle, and when a word or phrase isn’t adequately defined in the dictionary, googled them. The Kindle 4 PC app is free, and so are books now in the public domain. I’ve always used a lot of reading for context, but looking up everything is more satisfying, isn’t it?

The only problem is that I enjoy it so much that I end up correcting others, explaining word origins, when few people have solicited a call to the Vocabulary Police, and as a result, I tend to get invited out of conversations. Hey, gella, I wasn’t being critical of you; I was making that same mistake until recently!

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In a novel I’m reading I’ve found this, «Buck Mulligan sat down in a sudden pet.» The novel is from Ireland.


Apparently, the phrase does exist as described in the Merrian Webster Dictionary here:

Definition of pet (Entry 4 of 8)

a fit of peevishness, sulkiness, or anger — usually used in the phrase in a petresigned in a pet