Minding your p’s and q’s – We get told to mind them on occasions but what exactly are we to be mindful of?
Nowadays, it can mean being watchful of our manners or language (especially those prone to the odd curse!) but it wasn’t always so.
There are several attempts to explain the origin of the phrase. The most popular definition comes from early hot metal typesetting days when individual letters were distributed into the typecase either before or after printing. The lower-case p and q (especially Sans Serif fonts) looked very similar and they were either positioned next to each other in the typecase or at opposite ends. If they were transposed, the error only usually came to light when the page was proofed so you would need to mind your p’s and q’s or face a costly error!
Another proposed origin harks from the English 17th century public houses. Units of alcohol were served in pints or quarts. The bartender would have to keep an eye on the amounts of alcohol consumed so not to mix up the numbers on a customer’s slate, therefore minding his P’s and Q’s.
Other explanations include French wigs, feet, coats, pony tails, pleases and thank you’s. No one really knows the exact origin but whichever p and q you wish to mind, we’ll be minding our print ones!