Idiom IQ: Mind Your Ps & Qs

by Davina on June 15, 2012

“On all occasions next the chair
He stands for service of the Mayor
And to instruct him how to use
His A’s and B’s, and P’s and Q’s.”

~ Charles Churchill

(Note that there should not be an apostrophe used in the above quote since these are not being used in the possessive form.)

The origin of the Ps and Qs idiom

The most common meaning behind the phrase Mind your Ps and Qs is to mind your manners or mind your language; in other words, to behave or speak politely. It is believed to be an abbreviation of Mind your pleases and thank-yous.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the true origin of this phrase is in reference to learning the alphabet. In 2007, while revising the entry, an early example of its use was discovered in that poem shown above.

4 possible origins of Ps and Qs phrase

Note: One of the following has been made up by myself. Can you guess which one? Perhaps you’d like to offer your version :)

1. Hot metal typesetting Ps and Qs

It’s been said that Mind your Ps and Qs was advice given to a printer’s apprentice. While using early printing presses, individual letters were arranged in a frame to print a page of text. Because the letters were placed on the frame, reversed, it was easy to mix up letters such as “p” and “q.”

2. Mind your pints and quarts

Seventeenth-century bartenders in English pubs, would remind their customers to mind their ps and qs with regards to how much they were drinking. It’s also been noted that bartenders were careful not to confuse pints and quarts when writing orders down on their tally slates.

3. Mind the peace and quiet
In the sixth century, Cassiodorus founded the monastery of Vivarium in southern Italy. He established a library to preserve sacred texts for future generations and educated his monks in the proper methods for copying texts. During study sessions the phrase “mind the peace and quiet” evolved to mind your Ps and Qs.

4. Mind your feet and wigs

Mind your pieds and queues — Another potential origin of this phrase, from 18th-century French dance masters, to mind your feet and wigs while dancing. Or, an instruction when one was learning how to dance for a ball. Or, two of the most common moves dancing instructors would teach.

It’s interesting how many different interpretations there are of this one. One thing they all have in common though, is that pied is the French translation for feet.

Have you heard any other interesting origins of this phrase, or other phrases?

Which one of these four origins do you believe I made up?

P.S. On June 20th, I’ll be celebrating my four-year blogging anniversary. Hard to believe!

Image Credit: Green Chair Press

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patricia June 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Happy Blog Anniversary Davina, we will be partying here because it is IT Girl’s 33rd birthday celebration! Strawberry Shortcake will be the center piece…Do blogs get cake? I celebrated 4 years on May 1st….it felt a bit like a relief, as though I made it over some kind of measurement.

I loved your story telling….did you fabricate the pints and quarts one…I thought the Brits were metric? But we have a franchise bar here called Pints and Quarts?

My Mum used Ps and Qs for many occasions and circumstances – primarily when we were writing and doing homework as a reminder to edit your words and mind what you put down in writing for others to witness.
Then it became funny because my name starts with the letter P and my second daughter’s name starts with a Q….whenever the two of us arrived home, at my mum’s, school, or book group… there would be someone who would say MIND the Ps and Qs are here!
patricia´s last blog post ..LOTS OF CANDLES, PLENTY OF CAKE ~Anna Quindlen

Davina June 18, 2012 at 7:19 am

Thank you, Patricia.
Well, a happy birthday to IT Girl and a belated happy blog anniversary to you. :-) Strawberry Shortcake is delicious. Sure, why not… bloggers can celebrate with cake!

I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I will share which one was fabricated a bit later, so as to give a few more people a chance to guess, if they wish to. I don’t believe the Brits were using metric at the time this idiom was developed.

That’s too cute about your family’s Ps and Qs story and the initials of your first name. I love how your mother used this idiom. It seems that it’s a universal idiom in the sense that depending on the situation, folk just seem to know what it means.

Hilary June 18, 2012 at 10:39 am

Hi Davina .. It’s interesting re the above .. and I know which one is the falsie – but I’ll keep quiet!

The interesting fact is that Brewer’s Thesaurus … uses the apostrophe in all cases?! As Barbara would say … ‘What Say You?’

We use mind your Ps and Qs (or P’s and Q’s) quite often .. especially when trying to behave ..

Cheers Hilary

Davina June 20, 2012 at 11:38 am

Thanks for keeping the secret for a little while longer, Hilary :)

You have asked an excellent question. As for the use of apostrophes in this case, some folk might feel it’s necessary to avoid confusion. However, “Mind your Ps and Qs” is neither possessive, nor a contraction, both of which would call for the use of an apostrophe.

However, this could get confusing if you were to write about dotting your is :-) but still, because this is not a contraction or possessive, I would be more apt to write it as Remember to dot your “i”s to avoid it being read as “is.”

The best suggestion would be to avoid having to use acronyms in the plural sense when at all possible. So in this case, Remember to dot the letter “i.” might be a better way of writing this example.

Teena in Toronto June 20, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Happy blogoversary :)
Teena in Toronto´s last blog post ..Phil Hartman gets a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame

Davina June 21, 2012 at 10:32 am

Thank you, Teena! :)

Davina June 29, 2012 at 11:15 am

Hilary, if you’re around, why don’t you tell folk what the made-up version of this idiom is? I thought I’d give you the spotlight :)

Hilary June 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Hi Davina .. thought you might be stretching me ..but .. easy peasy, teezy queasy …?

6th C – love your historical take on the false choice – could so easily be true – but it’s not ..

A,B and D are quite correct – but C is the fake … You did a really good take on this one though ..

I’ve been posting about Jones’s – I thought there was another, probably left in my draft ..

Glad you’re ok – and that you’ve had some rain .. we are swamped with the stuff – and it’s messing up our infrastructure ..

Have a good weekend and looking forward to your next post .. cheers Hilary
Hilary´s last blog post ..Tudor Tilt Yard to Sand Pit … Elizabeth I’s birthday playground to car park …

Davina June 29, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Bang on, Hilary!

Thanks for coming back for the reveal. That falsie was a lucky one! I had “peace and quiet” as an idea and the rest fell into place once I started Googling. But I couldn’t fool you, could I? :)

Yes we’ve had no shortage of rain. Too bad that you guys are getting more than your share. Maybe the sun will shine for you this weekend. Fingers crossed, my friend.

My next post will be on July first… so far my posting schedule has been consistently on the 1st and around the 15th of each month. It’s working, for now.

Hilary June 30, 2012 at 1:05 am

Hi Davina .. well you did really well dreaming that up .. but I’d had a couple of other blogs since I started blogging mention Ps and Qs .. so had been ‘briefed’ so to speak ..

We have had an excess of rain – still June – and likely to be the wettest ever recorded … still Eastbourne tends to be dryer than elsewhere thankfully.

Posting twice a fortnight .. oh ok .. sounds a good idea – gives you plenty of time for other things .. so much going on here – just need to keep posting as best I can!

Cheers and have a happy weekend .. Hilary
Hilary´s last blog post ..Tudor Tilt Yard to Sand Pit … Elizabeth I’s birthday playground to car park …

Lynda Lehmann June 30, 2012 at 9:00 pm

You had me fooled, Davina. Or stumped, shall I say… But C did not sound QUITE convincing. I enjoyed your very creative post very much. Happy Blogoversary!

Davina July 2, 2012 at 7:40 am

Ah okay, so you were briefed. It was fun trying to fool you though, Hilary :-) Maybe next time, because I do plan on doing more of these types of posts in the future.

It seems like either folk are getting too much rain or not enough. The scales have become more variable. We’re still getting rain and cloud — so much for the long weekend. But that’s okay. Inspiration to write and so I’m not missing a sunny day by staying inside. Your blog is entertaining and educational, Hilary. You’re doing a great job over there. And with there being no blogging “rules” you can make your own posting schedule.

Hi Lynda.
Thanks for the blogoversary wishes. It’s nice to see you here! Glad to hear that you enjoyed this and that I stumped you :-)

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