Watch P's and Q's

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Watch P's and Q's

Post by hsargent » Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:48 pm

This expression just came up this morning and I had not thought of it for decades. I did a slight summarization of the Wikepedia discourse. I did not try to search Word Wizard anticipating issues.

"Ps and Qs" is short for "pleases" and "thank-yous"…yous and Qs has a similar sound.
Another origin comes from English pubs and taverns of the seventeenth century. Bartenders would keep a watch on the alcohol consumption of the patrons; keeping an eye on the pints and quarts that were consumed.

Other origin stories, some considered "fanciful",[1] could come from French instructions to mind one's pieds (feet) and queues (wigs) while dancing. However, there is no French translation for this expression.[3] Another origin could be from sailors in the eighteenth century who were reminded to pay attention to their peas (pea coat) and queues (pony tail).[3]

Another possible and viable theory is after the Norman Invasion of 1066 the courts, church, and establishment were becoming French speaking and the English dialect of the 11th Century had no qs; so one must watch their usage in court or discourse with the French Norman conquers.
A possible origin or at least similar expression comes from seventeenth-century slang. "P and Q" meant "prime quality" or "highest quality".

It is also possible that the expression refers to the careful reading of Medieval Latin texts: the letters "p" and "q" had various scribal abbreviation symbols for different shortened words. For example, "q" with a dot over it was the abbreviation for quod while "p" with a line through the tail of the letter was the symbol for per.

Another origin of the story of "mind your Ps and Qs" comes from early printing presses. Printers placed individual letters on a frame to print a page of text. The letters were reversed, making it easy to mistake lowercase ps and qs in setting the type and were fined for every spelling mistake, hence the personal financial importance of accuracy.
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Re: Watch P's and Q's

Post by tony h » Sat Dec 28, 2013 7:25 pm

I hadn't realised there were so many candidates for the origin of this. I remember m teacher using this expression when teaching hand-writing as it was easy to ps and qs (and bs and ds) badly.

And just a comment on the printing issue. It is actually quite difficult to muddle up ps and qs when typesetting as, in a standard or double job case, the ps are stored middle centre in a medium box and qs bottom left in a small box.
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: Watch P's and Q's

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Dec 28, 2013 8:36 pm

hsargent wrote:I did not try to search Word Wizard anticipating issues.
You'll find all the Wordwizard discussions that reference p's and q's if you click on this search link: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22p's+ ... wizard.com

Currently there are 17 hits, circa one third of which explicitly address your question (the remainder merely mentioning the expression).

All the theories put forward so far for the origin of the saying "Mind (or watch) your p's and q's" overlook the simplest and most obvious one of all. This is that because the letters P and Q occur next to each other in the alphabet AND the lower-case versions of the letters are mirror images, adults teaching children to read are likely to point out the similarity of their (alphabetically adjacent) forms and hence the risk of muddling them up ("Mind your p's and q's!").

Though the multiple competing theories are plausible on their face and are more entertaining than this possible explanation, they seem contrived and unnecessarily complicated.
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Re: Watch P's and Q's

Post by hsargent » Sun Dec 29, 2013 12:43 am

I thought the Linotype explanation was most plausible which is close to yours.
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Re: Watch P's and Q's

Post by tony h » Sun Dec 29, 2013 12:50 pm

hsargent wrote:I thought the Linotype explanation was most plausible which is close to yours.
I would have thought that Linotype was the least likely to give rise to this problem as the composing keys of p and q are quite separate, after all it isn't a problem that occurs much in typed material. If printing is the source then I would have thought that hand-setting or the form of correction available from Monotype.

(fyi. Originally type was made from individual letters kept in a tray and composed by hand, assembled in a chase. Linotype was a hot-metal casting process that hot cast a line of text as a block. The text itself was entered on a typewriter-style-keyboard. On the typesetting machines I used these produced a papertape which was used as input to the casting machine. A single change required recasting the whole line. A very effective process for fast output eg newspapers. Monotype was also a hot metal process but cut individual letters which allowed for enormous flexibility in editing (kerning and justification etc). The quality of the Monotype process also allowed the type to be taken up by hand-setters.
Lithograph processes allow for the full page to be set out and cast. Any error requires the full page to be re-etched.)
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: Watch P's and Q's

Post by hsargent » Sun Dec 29, 2013 8:46 pm

You are correct.
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Re: Watch P's and Q's

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Mon Dec 30, 2013 12:06 pm

I thought it was from a 'Two Ronnies' sketch.
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End of topic.
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