The Q is the limit ‘Q’ is a unique letter. It invariably requires a ‘u’ to follow it in a word. It stands alone in the pronunciation of ‘queue’, making that train of vowels redundant. Intelligently used, it generates a high score in Scrabble, and until recently was the only letter unusable in a two-letter word (‘QI’ changed that).
Q is the second-least-common letter in the English language, with a frequency of just 0.09 per cent in words. Only Z occurs less often.
Writer Arthur Quiller-Couch called himself ‘Q’, as did Quartermaster Major Boothroyd in the James Bond movies (not the books); ‘Q’ stands for ‘quality’ in Q-Tips, better known to us as ear buds. ‘Q’ occupies prime place on the top left corner of a typewriter or computer keyboard.
While trawling through the internet I learnt that QQ is a Chinese instant messaging program, QQQ is a Morse code signal for unknown attacker, used in conjunction with SOS; and QQQQ is a NASDAQ-100 exchange traded fund.
Scrabblers employ a variety of ‘u-less’ Q words excluding of course proper nouns such as Qantas or Compaq. Many of these are of Middle East origin, the ‘Q’ in the spelling suggesting a guttural pronunciation as opposed to simply using a ‘C’ or ‘K’. These include ‘qadi’ (a judge), ‘burqa’ (a woman’s veil), and ‘qaid’ (a leader).
‘Chi’, the Chinese word for the vital life force in the body supposedly regulated by acupuncture, is now allowable as ‘Qi’, opening up the Scrabble board for infinite new possibilities and still higher scores.
According to Scrabbler Huub Luyk, this is the most frequently played word in Scrabble tournaments. It gives a potential score of 64 points if the word QI is placed with Q on a triple letter square, parallel to an existing word.
As a letter that begins words such as ‘question’, ‘quiz’ and ‘questionnaire’ Q suggests interrogation and an invitation to solve an ensuing problem. Q&A, and FAQs are now everyday expressions for us.
What the ‘Q’ in the saying “Mind your Ps and Qs” (meaning ‘be on your best behaviour’) stands for is itself a mystery. Among the explanations offered are “Mind your ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ (Q being phonetically suggested); or a word of caution not to confuse ‘p’ and ‘q’ on a tally slate.