Mind My p’s and q’s?
P’s and Q’s …..what on EARTH?
Your Two Chums, always being inquisitive as to the why’s, decided to find out how “Mind your p’s and q’s” actually came into being.
We all know what it means when one is told to do so…..be careful, make sure everything is done correctly, etc.
Well apparently, there are many ideas as to where this admonition came from. The most viable one, to us comes from the typesetters in the printing industry. Letters had to be set one by one into a page in the day of lead type. They were placed upside down in order to come out correctly when printed and so p’s and q’s could VERY easily be mistaken for one another so the the person putting up the letters had to be ultra careful when doing so with those two letters. They had individual boxes for storage but it was easy for the person putting them away to put them in the wrong box.
Another explanation suggests that “Ps and Qs” is short for “pleases” and “thank-yous”, the latter of which contains a sound similar to the pronunciation of the name of the letter “Q”.
Another proposed origin is from the English pubs and taverns of the 17th century. Bartenders would keep a watch on the alcohol consumption of the patrons; keeping an eye on the pints and quarts that were consumed. As a reminder to the patrons, the bartender would recommend they “mind their Ps and Qs”. This may also have been a reminder to bartenders not to confuse the two units, written as “p” and “q” on the tally slate.
Other origin stories, some considered “fanciful”, 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. Another origin could be from sailors in the 18th century who were reminded to pay attention to their peas (pea coat) and queues (pony tail).