P's and Q's points and questions

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Apr 20 19:00:01 UTC 2009

At 2:20 PM -0400 4/20/09, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>At 4/20/2009 10:48 AM, Mark Mandel wrote:
>>Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
>>On Mon, Apr 20, 2009 at 9:30 AM, Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu> wrote:
>>>  And, in any case, were there a
>>>  reference to pints and quarts, isn't the order backwards,
>>sizewise accounting?
>>Do you mean that largest-to-smallest is more common? Is there any
>>evidence for that?
>Offhand, I would suppose that pints were listed first, and when the
>tab accumulated to quarts the larger unit was added.
I think this is just crying out for an etymythology.

"Minding one's P's and Q's" actually dates back to an 18th century
practice in which young orphans in the East End of London had to wait
in a long line for their humble and tasteless meals.  They would be
cautioned by the cruel taskmaster not to let their pease porridge
slop over the side of their bowls, and not to cut in front of anyone
else in the line (or queue, as it is called in England).   Any
failure to comply with these orders would lead to a severe whipping.
This came to be known as learning or minding your pease and queues.
Eventually, this was confused with the letters of the alphabet, and
people thought that knowing how to act properly meant minding your
P's and Q's.

Pass it on!


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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