Friday, June 09, 2006

Strange Assumptions

On the way home I was listening to 94.5 FM and they were discussing the origin of the phrase Mind Your P's and Q's. In response to a man who called in to say it was about bartenders reminding drunk patrons to mind their pints and quarts, a woman called in to say that it started in Scotland, "...I'm assuming over a hundred years ago..."

What? How can you assume an expression orginated over a hundred years ago? That's a bold assertion that doesn't seem to have any sort of basis in logic. Because pints and quarts aren't metric? Because no one would drink a quart of beer in this day and age? Because since the turn of the (last) century they'd now say mind your bottles and cans? I keep trying to figure out why she'd say "I'm assuming" about the date of an idiom, and I just can't figure it out.

From the Wikipedia Article:
To be very careful and/or to behave correctly. It is tied to the fact that the lowercase letters "p" and "q" mirror each other. This is a term from typesetters in the printing industry. In the days of lead type, letters were set individually into a page, and they were placed one by one, upside down. They were pulled from a typecase, in which each letter had a designated space to reside. Problems came when pages were being taken apart and letters put away. If someone was in a hurry or was not paying attention to what he was doing, he could end up with p's and q's in the wrong slots in the typecase, which he wouldn't notice until the next time he was putting together a page, when he would unknowingly pick out the wrong letter. (This could also happen with b's and d's, but as they are more common than q's, typesetters were more accustomed to finding them, and they were mixed up less often.) Hence, pay attention to what you're doing now, so that you don't give yourself problems later on. In England this phrase is also associated with "p'ease" and "'k you" baby talk for 'Please' and 'Thank you', hence "Mind your P's and Q's" is sometimes used to mean "Remember to say 'Please' and 'Thank you.'"

1 comment:

She says said...

I would have guessed it was "pennies" and "quarters", but what do I know?