Tag Archives: words

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?)

H is for Hearsay

I was thinking I’d blog “H is for Honesty” and then own up to the fact that I’m really lousy at blogging challenges, which is why, despite having already written one “catch-up” post, I am still woefully behind on the A to Z Challenge.

And then I realized, that would just be stating the obvious. I’m pretty sure most of you already know how terrible I am at blogging challenges. Even those of you new to this blog likely have an inkling.

(I’m right, aren’t I?)

So this morning, I was hunting around for another “H” word to blog about, and hearsay popped into my mind. My mind works in weird, wonderful and mysterious ways. Which is my fancy way of saying, I have no clue why hearsay popped into my mind. Nor am I prepared to write a legal discourse about it. (And if I did, it would be highly inaccurate – beginning with the fact that I can’t even find my (very old) edition of Black’s Law Dictionary to give an adequate definition.)

I’ve always thought of the hearsay rule as meaning the courts really don’t want to listen to gossip, rumors and innuendo (um, all you students out there, do not use this definition in a test, exam or essay).

And, since (here in Canada, anyway) there’s a list of “hearsay exceptions” a mile long (and not all enumerated as yet by the courts, which just means they’re liable to think up fresh new exceptions at any given moment), it’s not exactly an ironclad rule, either.

So, no, it wasn’t the legal ramifications of hearsay my mind was toying with. I think where my mind was headed (and dragging me along behind it) was the word hearsay itself – as a word. I mean, take a look at it – you can sort of see how it evolved, can’t you?

Well, yer Honor, I heared her say to me that John told her that Shelby told him that Duke told her that someone oughta shoot the black duck’s brains out. That’s what I heared her say, and I’m willin’ to swear to that.”

But no, that’s probably not the way it happened. That’s just my imagination running away from me (which it likes to do every now and then, to keep me fit). My Chambers Dictionary of Etymology doesn’t have an entry for hearsay, except at the end of the entry for hear, but according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, hearsay comes to us from the 1530s, from the phrase to hear say.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking: If you were new to the English language, and just happened to see the word hearsay pop up somewhere, it would look a lot like a funny, made-up word. You know, like the kind of thing fantasy and science fiction writers are always coming up with …

And if you’re wondering how on earth I’m going to do another catch-up post, now that “C” is long past, I was thinking I might be able to sneak another one in when I get to “K” (you know, as in ketchup). :)

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?

Do You Know What This Is Called?

There’s one benefit about being in this community of book lovers and writers – when I get stumped by a language question, I know where to turn!

I need to know what a phrase like “figment of the imagination” is called.

It’s not a cliché, I know, but is there a word(s) that describes such a phrase?

And, for all you book lovers out there, would anyone know if there’s a book out there that collects all these kinds of phrases, a compendium of sorts?

Update: Thanks to comments so far and Twitter, I think I might be looking for collections of idioms, colloquialisms or figures of speech. Your suggestions on any good books that are collections of any of these would be very much appreciated!

What Are Your Favorite Words?

From now until November 1, in preparation for NaNoWriMo, I will be in full research mode for my NaNoWriMo novel. (Here’s my NaNoWriMo profile – if you’re participating, let’s be Writing Buddies!)

My research? Words! Lots and lots of glorious, gorgeous words, with perhaps a handful of more desolate words for variety.

I will be in full word-collection mode over the next five weeks.

What types of words am I collecting?

Mainly modifiers: adjectives and adverbs. Verbs and interjections, too. I’m not as interested in nouns, unless they’re abstract nouns.

I’m not looking for unusual words, either, although unusual is fine, too. Mainly, I’m building a random list, filled with a variety of words suggested by lots of different people.

So, what are your favorite words? Words that you always stop to admire whenever you see them, whether in a book, on a billboard, in a magazine. Words that make you smile, or laugh, or perhaps even sniff back a small tear.

I’d love to know, if you’d like to share! Please let me know in a comment, or send me an email. Don’t hesitate to tell your friends, too – the more words I collect, the better!