Mind your p's and q's

Posted by R. Berg on April 28, 2002

In Reply to: Mind your p's and q's posted by Bruce Kahl on April 28, 2002

: : :
: : : i heard it stould for mind your punctuation and quotes

: : That's a new one. From the archives:

: : There have been several theories posted on Phrase Finder about "minding your P's and Q's." To mind your Ps and Qs is to be careful; cautious. The Ps here are said to be pints and the Qs to be quarts. The publican "chalks up" or "puts on the slate" the drinks supplied to customers; they must be aware of how much they have drunk or their bills will be unexpectedly large.

: : An alternative view is that P derives from the French pied=foot and the Q comes from queue=tail(of a wig) and that the whole saying is based on 18th century court etiquette.

: : Advice to a child learning its letters to be careful not to mix up the handwritten lower-case letters p and q. Similar advice to a printer's apprentice, for whom the backward-facing metal type letters would be especially confusing.

: : An abbreviation of mind your please's and thank-you's.

: : Instructions from a French dancing master to be sure to perform the dance figures pieds and queues accurately.

: : An admonishment to seamen not to soil their navy pea-jackets with their tarred queues, that is, their pigtails.

: : There was once an expression P and Q, often written pee and kew, which was a seventeenth-century colloquial expression for "prime quality". This later became a dialect expression (the English Dialect Dictionary reports it in Victorian times from Shropshire and Herefordshire).

: :
: : OED2 has a citation from Rowlands' Knave of Harts of 1612:
: : "Bring in a quart of Maligo, right true: And looke, you Rogue, that it be Pee and Kew."
: : Nobody is really sure what either P or Q stood for. To say they're the initials of "Prime Quality" seems to be folk etymology, because surely that would make "PQ" rather than "P and Q".

: I like the one that it is derived from the printing industry as a suggestion to an apprentice to be careful where the danger of confusing lowercase "p" and "q" was increased because typesetters had to view the typeset text backwards.

Why do we not have a saying "Mind your b's and d's"? That would fit the typesetter's task just as well, with the advantage of rhyming.