Tag Archives: clichés

Mind Your Ps and Qs

I’m known around here as a first-class mangler of phrases and clichés.

For some reason, I have a really tough time with clichés and idioms. I’m always getting them wrong. Take “pedal to the metal”, for instance. For years, I’d say “Petal to the metal”. It rhymes, after all!

So this morning I woke up thinking, “A to Z Challenge. Hmmm. I need a P and I need a Q. Oh, wait! How about ‘mind your Ps and Qs’?”

But I decided I’d better ask my husband first, to make sure.

“Is it ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’?”

He nodded. “Yes, that’s it.”

“I don’t get it, though. Doesn’t it mean, behave yourself? Mind your manners? That sort of thing?”


“Hmmm. Well, I get the P. That would be “please”, right? So what does the Q mean?”

We were both puzzled, so I turned to Google.

As it turns out (according to The Phrase Finder), no-one knows for sure where the phrase originated. But here are the most common suggestions:

  1. Mind your pints and quarts. (Pub talk.)
  2. Advice to children or printers’ apprentices to avoid confusing lowercase Ps and Qs.
  3. Mind your pea (jacket) and queue (wig).
  4. Mind your pieds (feet) and queues (wigs). (When you’re dancing, that is.)
  5. Mind your pleases and thank-yous.

It seems to me the last one should have resulted in “mind your Ps and Ts”, but as I’ve mentioned, I’m not exactly the world’s expert in these kinds of things.

And, as The Phrase Finder says about number 2, wouldn’t “mind your Bs and Ds” make more sense in that context?

I’m sure there are a lot more potential origins out there.

I have a fascination with clichés and commonly used phrases. Probably because I can never get them right.

Which is not really something a writer should admit to, I guess. (On the other hand, you’re not likely to find clichés in my writing, since I know I’m sure to get them wrong. That’s got to be a good thing, right?)

The Art of Mangling Clichés

I’ve never met a cliché that I haven’t mangled in some way or other.

The other day I was thinking to myself, “Hey, wait a minute. There is a cliché that I know inside out. That I would never, not in a million years, mangle. A dollar for your thoughts. Hah!”

It took me a few hours to realize that perhaps the correct saying is actually, “A penny for your thoughts”, and maybe even “A nickel for your thoughts”. But it’s highly unlikely that inflation has had that kind of impact on this particular cliché just yet.

I’m not sure why I have this glaring lack of ability when it comes to clichés. All I know is that I usually don’t dare to employ a cliché when I’m writing anything.

Once, I sent an email to a group of wonderful, empowering women who have been by my side every day for the past five years or so, and I headed it “Petal to the medal”. I meant, I realized later, “pedal to the metal”, but to this day, “petal to the medal” looks right to me (and as proof, I actually had to Google “petal to the medal cliché” to find out exactly what the right phrase was).

Luckily, embarrassment isn’t something that happens when I’m within the circle of this particular group of friends. But still, it was a reminder that I must stay away from clichés.

I guess as a writer, this is a good thing. On the other hand, in my current WIP, words and idioms play a rather large role.

So I’m now well-armed: I decided to get a copy of The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, and on my wishlist is The Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms, which I had borrowed from the library last year but didn’t get a chance to do more than dip into.

I figure I’ll be well-prepared as a result.

What about you? Are there any clichés that you tend to mangle?