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Re: p's and q's revisited

Jennifer Vignone wrote:
> I thought the  p's and q's thing came from typesetting...that's what a
> friend whose father was a type designer told me. It had something to do
> with the letters "p" and "q" being the same width or something in
> letterpress and therefore easy to mistake one for the other and therefore
> make some questionable spelling errors...
> now I am going to have to check with him.

When one is hand composing type from cold metal, one character (called a
sort) at a time, each sort is placed in the composing stick upside down
reading from left to right.  Each letter is reversed on the sort so that
when it prints it prints right way around.  The compositor has to
two mental transformations to read a character: flip it vertically and
flip it horizontally.  A 'p' in the composing stick looks like a 'b' and
a 'q' looks like a 'd'.  "Mind your Ps and Qs" comes from the common
mistake of rotating the letter in your mind instead of flipping it --
you look at a 'p' and think that it is a 'd', when it is really a 'b'.

I suppose the phrase could of been "mind your Ps and Ds" or some other
combination -- not sure why its p and q.

Also, printing is where "out of sorts" comes from too! (I wonder about
"make a good impression"?).


        David Macfarlane,
        Green Dolphin Press.

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