Mind Your Ps and Qs: Origin and Meaning
The idiom is believed to have three possible origins:
1. The idiom is said to date back to the olden days when town dwellers or travellers who were just passing through would enjoy a drink or two at the local inn or tavern. In those days, beer (or better ale) was served in pints and quarters and there were no electronic tills or facilities in place where you could run up your tab or place your card behind the bar. Therefore, the barmaids, who were often rushed off their feet and whose main job was to keep ‘em comin, had the arduous task of remembering each and every customer’s drink of choice and not mixing them up, otherwise they would get a drunken and irate earful from sozzled patrons. Hence, “mind your ps and qs”.
2. The one that is perhaps more closely linked to the way we use the expression today is that Ps stand for Pleases and Qs stand for Thank Yous (Thank-qs). This would be a more plausible suggestion as the expression has a direct correlation to “minding your language” or “being on your best behaviour”.
3. The final suggestion is that the idiom originates from advice once given to children when they were learning to write. As paper at the time was an expensive commodity that could not be wasted, parents used to look over their children’s writing tasks, generally letters to distant family members, and remind them about the similarities between these two letters – p and q.
– Minding your ps and qs is part of being a good citizen.
– He has to mind his ps and qs when he’s with his parents.