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A prig //, sometimes spelled prigg, is a person who shows an inordinately zealous approach to matters of form and propriety—especially where the prig has the ability to show superior knowledge to those who do not know the protocol in question. They see little need to consider the feelings or intentions of others, relying instead on established order and rigid rules to resolve all questions.
The prig approaches social interactions with a strong sense of self-righteousness.
The first edition of H.W. Fowler's Modern English Usage has the following definition:
A prig is a believer in red tape; that is, he exalts the method above the work done. A prig, like the Pharisee, says: "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are"—except that he often substitutes Self for God. A prig is one who works out his paltry accounts to the last farthing, while his millionaire neighbour lets accounts take care of themselves. A prig expects others to square themselves to his very inadequate measuring rod, and condemns them with confidence if they do not. A prig is wise beyond his years in all things that do not matter. A prig cracks nuts with a steamhammer: that is, calls in the first principles of morality to decide whether he may, or must, do something of as little importance as drinking a glass of beer. On the whole, one may, perhaps, say that all his different characteristics come from the combination, in varying proportions, of three things—the desire to do his duty, the belief that he knows better than other people, and blindness to the difference in value between different things.
The character of the prig was encapsulated in Charles Dickens' portrait of the day-nurse Betsy Prig—capable of a "rapid change from banter to ferocity" but always referred to by night-nurse Sairah Gamp as "the best of creeturs"—in his novel Martin Chuzzlewit:
A glimpse of Mrs Prig's nursing technique is afforded by the following exchange, as Sairah Gamp arrives to take over from Mrs Prig in the supervision of a patient:
Those who do not enjoy Malvolio would reduce him to a conventional killjoy, a scapegoat who deserves to be held up to ridicule because of his officious humourlessness. There would be a need to expose Malvolio if he pretended to be something he is not, but he never puts on a false manner; his absurdity is native and his egotism so openly displayed that even Olivia, who appreciates his talents, very early accuses him of being ungenerous and "sick of self-love". Incapable of hypocrisy or sanctimony, he is genuinely outraged by Toby's revelries, which offend his sense of propriety and defy his authority. He is a prig with an instinct for grandeur that at once muddles his statements and endows them with an ineffable grandiosity.
Typical of Malvolio's priggish response to irreverent behaviour is his objection to the singing of Toby, Andrew and Feste: "Do ye make an alehouse of my lady's house, that ye squeak out your coziers’ catches without any mitigation or remorse of voice?"