Minding Your P’s and Q’s: Where This Expression Originated?

August 7, 2022

Happy Sunday, everybody. I hope that you are minding your P’s and Q’s! Did you wonder about where “minding your P’s and Q’s” originated? I was chatting with my friend, Shaheen, the other day. English is her fourth language (so jealous) and she continues to be fascinated by some of our American English expressions. So when the idiom “mind your p’s and q’s” came up, she was more than a little intrigued… and I just had to find out… where the heck did we get this one?

Generally, the expression means to be careful or act with good behavior. Right this minute, I hear my mother’s voice, “Now, Marianne, be careful to mind your P’s and Q’s when visiting your grandmother.” Never-the-less, even though we are in agreement about the meaning of the expression, there’s a lot of debate over the etymology. Just where does “Minding Your P’s and Q’s” originate? Among the theories:

Minding Your P's and Q's Originated
Photo by Teo Do Rio on Unsplash

It has To Do With Beer

Phases.org suggests that mind your p’s and q’s comes from pints and quarts. They say the expression could come from, “Mind your pints and quarts.” Therefore, this suggests the phrase derives from the practice of chalking up a tally of drinks in English pubs (on the slate). Publicans had to ensure to mark up the quart drinks as distinct from the pint drinks.” As a result, patrons had to keep a watchful eye on the pub owner to make sure he or she minded their p’s and q’s as not to be overcharged.  

Minding Your P's and Q's originated
Photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

It Has To Do With Printing

Next, let’s talk about the possibility that the expression has to do with proofreading. According to Snopes.com, “Back in the days when type was set by hand, (and type was set backwards) printers could easily mistake lowercase p’s for q’s. Hence, the caution to be careful to not make that error.” This could also be where minding your P’s and Q’s originated.

Origination of Mind your P's and Q's
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

It Has To Do With Grammar School

There’s also some buzz out there that this expression was developed by teachers, instructing their young charges in penmanship. They should “mind their p’s and q’s” as to not mix up the mirror image letters.

To summarize, whatever the true etymology, it’s fun to think about all the possibilities for the start of this expression and Shaheen is happy to go home with yet another weird thing that she has learned about American English.

And if you are still hungry for more idioms, you can check out my previous blogs: Who Are You Calling an Idiom? and Who Are You Calling an Idiom? Part 2.

Have a great day out there, my friends.

And Don’t Forget To Mind Your P’s and Q’s!


Hope to see you at the store: consignmentsltd.com.

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