Mind your p's and q's|
Heather Worthley: What do the p and q refer to in mind your p's and q's? Do they simply reference the alphabet letters, because they are mirror images of each other, so in handwriting one must be careful distinguishing them? Or is it something more interesting?
Terry O'Connor: Computer technology has overtaken the printing industry, but the days when printers composed type by selecting individual metal letters, or slugs, from cases has left its mark on the language. Printers used to have to be able to "read type", that is to read the mirror-image letters they kept in the upper case (capital letters) and the lower case (small letters). The most difficult letters to read were b, d, p and q, because they were so similar. This almost certainly brought us the phrase "Mind your Ps and Qs", although it has also been suggested that it comes from an admonishment to new church sextons: "Mind your keys and pews"; and to new barmen: "mind your pints and quarts". The printers' slugs were also known as sorts, so printers became "out of sorts" when they used too many and ran out of them.
Perry Brake: I have often heard this saying as "Mind your OWN p's and q's" as in "mind your own business" and therefore favor the thought that it originated in English pubs where a tipsy patron might be admonished by the barkeep to "mind his pints and quarts" only to be told to "mind his OWN p's and q's!"
Sarah: I took a tour of an early 1800 printing press and the tour guide said that when the editor of the paper hired an apprentice he made the apprentice in charge of cleaning all of the letters by hand and putting them away in the correct boxes. Since the letters were backwards on the stamp the editor had to remind the apprentice to mind his p's and q's, so as not to get them mixed up.
John: Oxford English Dict. lists at least three possible origins:
a. British pubs kept count of patrons pints/quarts.
b. Early typesetters were admonished to pay attention to the letters "p & q" since they lookes similar, each having a tail
c. School teachers used the phrase when teaching the alphabet to young students.
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