Sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. This is true not only about the way things are done, but the official historical record of how they came to be done that way. One thing I have observed is that numerous sayings with one meaning today allegedly originated with a very dissimilar meaning totally unrelated that could never have evolved into its current one. Am I being lied to?
Mind Your Ps And Qs
The only way I have ever heard this phrase used is to tell people (especially children) to behave themselves and mind their manners, which is largely another way of telling them not to roughhouse and to say “please” and “thank you.” My parents told me to mind my Ps and Qs before leaving me with the babysitter. I understood P to stand for “please” and Q to stand for “thank you” (ten-Q). This was a common way of saying it in my household. It was a clever pun. On Sesame Street, Ernie once had the same idea.
Only in my early twenties did I read that the saying originated from the time of early typesetting. Those setting up the printing press had to be careful not to confuse lowercase p with lowercase q. Saying “mind your ps and qs” was a way of telling someone to pay attention to detail. How this very different meaning evolved into the modern one is a total mystery.
Later, I read another origin story. This one claimed that in English taverns, ale was sold in pints and quarts. When patrons became rowdy from too much alcohol, they were told to “mind your pints and quarts.” This was eventually shortened to “mind your Ps and Qs.” This explanation makes slightly more sense than the other.
How is it possible to have two completely different origin stories? Historians should either know or not know! Why the controversy? Could this be a macroscopic manifestation of the “multiple histories” of quantum mechanics?
Almost every television detective is stonewalled at some point by someone they are trying to get information from. Usually it means that someone won’t answer their phone or moves slowly in supplying documents. In the general case, stonewalling is what one does when they simply fail to respond to inquiry rather than explicitly declare they won’t cooperate. When a big company never returns your messages, they are stonewalling. Getting questions answered is like interviewing a stone wall. This is a common word used this way and only this way (to my knowledge).
Later in life, I read that the origin of the word had nothing to do with stone walls or failing to answer questions. Allegedly, there was once a gay bar by the name of Stonewall. There had been a fight inside, but some patrons blocked the police from entering. It was a big event and made the national news. Because their lack of cooperation was active and explicit, it is not the same as how the word is now used.
I’m not buying it. Even if the original meaning of the word meant any sort of blocking of access, it’s kind of a strange coincidence that the name of the bar was so fitting, isn’t it?
From my very first day on the world wide web, I kept hearing about something called spam. This was not canned meat, but unsolicited mass emails. How did this slang begin? Only in my late twenties did I find out. Multiple sources say that the word comes from a Flying Circus skit. In it, a couple stops at a restaurant where every item on the menu contains spam. “I don’t like spam!” the lady (played by Graham Chapman) says. Then, the origin story skips what must be at least a half-dozen steps to say that now we refer to junk email as spam.
Why? What’s the connection? The story explains absolutely nothing. It’s like explaining human embryology by explaining how egg and sperm form a zygote and then saying, “And then out pops a successful banker with a house, three kids, two dogs, and a convertible he takes to church on Sundays.” What happened in between? How did the two totally unrelated concepts of canned meat and junk email become linked in enough minds that the meme caught on?
None of these stories make any sense. Even if they are partly true, they leave too much unaccounted for. This must be maddening to sociologists. Why is human culture so confusing and unpredictable?
At least the story of how s’mores got their name makes sense. Believe in s’mores.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.