Mind your Ps and Qs

Summary

Neil has an important speech to give, so why is Feifei reminding him about the two specific letters, P and Q? Listen and learn a phrase that can remind us to be polite in formal situations. But for Neil, the phrase is still mysterious.

Transcript

Feifei
So, tonight’s the night, Neil. How do you feel?

Neil
A bit nervous, but mostly excited. I’ve been practising my speech all morning.

Feifei
Just go out there, smile, and don’t forget: mind your Ps and Qs!

Neil
Eh? I know how to spell, Feifei.

Feifei
You know what I mean!

Neil
Don’t worry! I won’t offend anyone.

Feifei
Mind your Ps and Qs is our phrase in The English We Speak. If someone tells you to mind your Ps and Qs, they’re telling you to be polite in a social situation, and to be careful about what you say or do.

Neil
Feifei, I’m always on my best behaviour. Now, let me practise my speech.

Feifei
And I’ll play some examples.

Examples
Gang, Gang, Gang! How many times have I told you to mind your Ps and Qs when you’re with your grandparents? Grandma doesn’t like that kind of language!

Last week’s meeting with our new clients was super frustrating. But I had to mind my Ps and Qs. As they say, the customer is always right!

Lan always says the first thing that comes into her head. I just hope she minds her Ps and Qs at lunch today.

Feifei
You’re listening to The English We Speak from BBC Learning English. In this programme we are looking at the expression ‘mind your Ps and Qs’. So Neil, finished practising your speech? 

Neil
Not yet. I’ve been distracted by today’s phrase. I’ve been looking it up online.

Feifei
And?

Neil
Nobody agrees where it comes from. There are so many theories. One is that printers back in the 19th Century used to get confused between the small letters p and q. 

Feifei
They do look similar! So they had to mind their Ps and Qs. Makes sense.

Neil
And there’s another about bartenders in 17th Century England. They used to serve beer in measures called pints and quarts. Pints with a ‘P’ and quarts with a ‘Q’. When a customer was drinking too much…

Feifei
… They told them to mind their pints and quarts? Their Ps and Qs. Yes, makes sense too.

Neil
And there’s another…

Feifei
Neil?

Neil
Yes?

Feifei
Your speech is in one hour. Shouldn’t you be practising?

Neil
Oh! So it is.

Feifei
And… Mind your Ps and Qs! 

Neil
OK. Bye.

Feifei
Bye.