Friday - - Mind Games -

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.

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