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I found a phrase ‘not a peep,’ in the Washington Post’s article (September 16) written by Eugene Robinson, which was captioned “Where are the compassionate conservatives?” In the article, Robinson describes the scene of Republican Presidential candidate, Ron Paul’s answering the moderator, Wolf Blitzer’s question at the Tea party debate held on September 12th:

“Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a hypothetical question about a young man who elects not to purchase health insurance. The man has a medical crisis, goes into a coma and needs expensive care. “Who pays?” Blitzer asked.

“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody. . . .”

Blitzer interrupted: “But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?”

There were enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah!” from the crowd. “You’d think one of the other candidates might jump in with a word about Christian kindness. Not a peep.”

What does “Not a peep” mean here? Does it mean “No sound, no voice”, or “No answer”? Does it mean the Congressman was unable to talk back even a single word, or other candidates zipperd their mouth, or audience who shouted 'Yes' in accord suddenly fell into silence?

I checked online dictionaries for the words. None of Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, or Urban dictionary has entry of “Not a peep.” I don't know why. Isn’t this an idiom, or just an abridgement of ‘There was no peep.”?

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3 Answers 3

Merriam-Webster has the following definition for the noun peep:

a slight utterance especially of complaint or protest .

That's the definition referenced in the phrase "not a peep."

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The basic sense is 'not a sound', but in practice it often means 'not a word on a particular topic', as it does here: here it means that none of the other candidates made the slightest objection to the idea that society should simply let the young man die. Similarly, a parent might say to a child ‘And when I tell you to do your homework, I don’t want to hear a peep out of you!’, meaning that the child is not to make any vocal objection. On the other hand, if the parent says ‘Go to your room, and don’t let me hear a peep out of you for the next hour’, it means that the child is to be quiet in his or her room for the next hour.

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Note that I wasn't able to find it in any of the online dictionaries either, however, the closest I found of where it is being used in context is the second paragraph of following satirical passage from the Urban Dictionary:

One time a few wiffens past when kings, queens and jesters roamed the world, there was a king. He did bad things. He was a crooked king who wrongfully burned birds, chopped up chinese people, and threw their remains into his moat. On a certain day the albinos got fed up with his wrong doings. The albinos never did like to get tortured with red hot shafts being impaled into their belly buttons, how could you blame them anyway?

They snuck into the castle via the dungeon, they battled his hideous freaks that lurked in the dungeon and worked their way upstairs. To his bedroon they went where he lay sound asleep. They captured him, not a peep was heard by the guards who stood right outside of his bedroom door. They threw him from his window and had the most angry albino of the clan decapitate him. He swung, and missed, only slicing the top portion of his skull off completely.

The kings name was... Sir. Comesized.
The reason for the beheading of him... He was a dick. Sir Cumsized once humiliated me in public at the local tavern.

Judging by the context, I believe it to mean not a sound or voice was heard. This is also supported by Yahoo Answers. I am not certain, however, whether this is an abridgement to "There was no peep", or an idiom. I would say the latter.

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