Sometimes you go a whole month without hearing an interesting English idiom, and then a bunch of them come along. Today we talk through an English idiom that my parents would have used and I still do.
I’m sure at some point in your life you will have been invited to a posh party or an event where you had to dress up. Now for most of us we would automatically know to behave and be on our best behaviour. However, for children you probably have to remind them, and being careful is at the root of today's idiom.
We recently had a question asking why are our podcasts only 10 minutes long? Well, interestingly enough, it’s by design. The neuroscience behind learning suggests it is not the length of a lesson that matters most, it’s the level of attention and focus you can achieve during the lesson.
Our lessons are shorter because we need you to focus, to listen to the words. We need you to take a short period of your dead time during the day and give it over to really (and I mean really) listening to English being spoken. We want the amount of English language information (typically some 2000 words) to be manageable in a timeframe that can fit into just about anyone's daily routine.
We also use a story based approach to our lessons. Humans are programmed to take notice of stories, it’s an evolutionary survival mechanism. Using stories, we can open up your brain to keeping information more easily.
And because we recommend spaced repetition, we need you to listen to the lesson many times. If we produced one lesson a week, which was 30 minutes long, we probably wouldn’t be able to keep your attention as well. It’s harder to get you to listen to 30 minutes of audio twice in 60 minutes. While in the same 60 minutes spread out over the day you could have listened to 6 shorter, more interesting lessons without having to stop your day for your English lesson.
Some people may agree with this some may not, we're all different. However with over 400 podcasts you can make your lessons as long as you like :)
Repetition Manners Scenario Probable Material Spectacle
|To Mind Your||5|
|To Learn English||3|
|How To Learn||3|
|To Speak English||2|
|In The UK||2|
|Mind Your Manners||2|
Hi and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. We help lots of English language learners – thousands every week to move closer to their goal of wanting to learn English, speaking it fluently. With Adept English you learn English free a lot of the time, but of course, we do have some paid courses.
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Today’s podcast? Well, I had a question via email last week from Volkan in Turkey, which was an interesting one. Volkan asked me about the English idiom ‘to mind your Ps and Qs’. Volkan had tried to research this idiom – trying to find out what it meant, without much success, so...or at least, he tried to find the origin and the reason for us saying this.
And I answered his question, but I did a little research myself in order to give him an answer – so I thought that it might be something interesting to share in a podcast.
So the idiom ‘to mind your Ps and Qs’ – it means to ‘mind your manners’. ‘To mind’ means ‘to pay attention to’, ‘to be careful with’. On trains in the UK, you will see signs saying ‘Mind the gap’, meaning ‘mind you don’t fall down the gap between the train and the station platform when you’re getting on and off the train’.
In fact, train companies in the UK are so concerned about their passengers falling down the gap, they also play ‘Mind the gap’ messages over the train’s audio system! And when I say ‘Mind your manners’, ‘your manners’ means your ‘way of being’, your politeness, if you like. I think that British people in particular have quite a high expectation around manners.
We expect people to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thankyou’ quite a lot – and we also say ‘Sorry’ a lot too. In the UK, if there are a lot of people waiting for the same thing – it may be to get onto a train, or to be served in the Post Office or to enter an Art Gallery, then we will ‘form an orderly queue’. Even at the supermarket check-out, we do this, we queue. And people will get quite annoyed with you, if you try to ‘push in’ or ‘jump the queue’. It’s expected that everybody waits their turn.
Manners and politeness are so important that you sometimes get the comical spectacle of two people trying to go through a doorway and one says ‘You first!’ and the other hesitates and says ‘No, you first!’ and the first one says ‘No please! You first….’. So on the whole, especially around people that we don’t know, we like to be polite – and we have an expectation of other people being polite too.
You wouldn’t bump into someone accidentally in the street, without apologizing. And sometimes British people apologize profusely – that means ‘a lot’. I’ve even know people apologize to inanimate objects that they bump into – like a lampost. This is because to say ‘sorry’ is so automatic – we’re conditioned as children to be polite!
So ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’ is just the sort of thing that a mother might say to her children when an elderly relative is coming to tea. Or if you’re going to eat at the house of someone who’s quite posh, where there might be a very high expectation around manners.
Another scenario might be in business, if you’re dining with potential customers or where you’re dealing with customers who might complain about you. ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’ means ‘be super polite – don’t take any risks’. Another phrase which we might use in this sort of context – ‘Be on your best behaviour’. This means ‘Don’t make any mistakes with your manners and your politeness – show your best behaviour only’. So that’s ‘Be on your best behaviour’, ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’.
So what is the origin of this phrase? You may well expect the P and the Q in this phrase to be short for something. And the origins aren’t exactly certain, but what I’m about to give you is a good surmise, is likely to be right in other words.
So in the transcript for this podcast so far, I’ve written Ps and Qs as capital letters, which look very different from one another. But if you consider the lower case versions of these letters – and what they look like – ‘p’ and ‘q’ – you can see that they’re a ‘mirror image’ of each other. In other words, q is like a backwards p.
So an obvious time where someone would need to ‘mind their Ps and Qs’ would be in learning to write English – don’t confuse these two letters. When children are learning to write English – and mine were no exception – they often write letters and numbers the wrong way around – and it takes quite a bit of practice to get numbers or letters the correct way round every time.
So of course, letters like p and q in lower case, present a problem – you’ll get those two letters mixed up, if you write one the wrong way round. I guess the phrase, the idiom could just as easily have been ‘mind your Bs and Ds’ because it’s a similar problem there, with lower case ‘b’ and ‘d’.
Another place where it would have been easy to confuse Ps and Qs? Well, it’s not something that we think about in our digital age, when printing is really easy. But think about the days when printed material was produced using a printing press. So basically, someone would have to set up the printing press, with the letters all in the correct places in order to print a particular page of a book.
A photograph of old fashioned print block sets. With and English idiom about being careful about your p and q.
This was known as ‘typesetting’ – meaning setting up a printing press with all the correct letters. How laborious this seems to us now. And of course, every letter you typeset would be reversed, back-to-front, the wrong way around. So guess where errors would be most likely to occur? Of course, in letters like ‘p’ and ‘q’ or ‘b’ and ‘d’.
How annoying it must have been to have typeset a page – only to realise when you’ve done your print run, that there’s a ‘q’ where there should’ve been a ‘p’ or vice versa. We may get frustrated with technology these days, but at least we haven’t got these problems!
So that’s the probable origin of the phrase ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’. But another possible explanation – ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’, could mean ‘Mind your pleases and thankyous’. So there, P would stand for ‘please’ and Q would stand for ‘thankyou’ because there’s a Q sound at the end of the word thanKYOU.
That’s another possible explanation! Whichever it is, I hope that knowing this helps you remember the meaning of the idiom.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.