Qareful with your ps and qs

I was recently outed for the way I wrote a cursive Q. Cursive is a waning skill, as it is not part of the common core curriculum, and, thus, also on its way to becoming a class issue; If you know cursive you probably attended private, parochial school or a foreign school system. I went to parochial school during the learning-to-write period, and so, my uppercase Q’s resemble the child from a union between an upper case L and the number 2.   The bottom loops like an L, with an air pocket to the left and a flourish to the right. The top is the top of a 2, with the hook facing left instead of the right of an L hook.

This parental combination makes sense if you look at the origins of Q. Precursors to Q appear in Egyptian hieroglyphics and ancient artifacts from the Phoenician and Roman empires, as both a number and a letter.  Languages from Aleut (Alaskan Islands) to Zulu (South Africa) all have a sound variant based on Q – from kw, k, ch to ng. (if you need a moment to hum the Kwik e mart theme, go ahead. . .) The bases for Q in Latin languages is Kappa, formerly, Koppa which is a number symbol for 90 as well as the a letter in the ancient Phoenician and Greek alphabets.

Q remains mysterious and useful. In English, according to Wikipedia, it is used in only .03 percent of words, making it the second most unique letter in Modern English.   This includes words followed by u (its more common usage) and those followed by another vowel, like qajaq (the boat) or qat (a flower based chew in north Africa and the Middle East). The mysteriousness may be why the creators of Avenue Q, a musical set on a fantasy street in an outer outer borough of New York City, chose that letter instead of the even less common Z. In James Bond, Q is the head of research and development for the British Secret Service and is the shortened version of the job title Quartermaster. Q is also one of the few letters where its sound is also a word in its own right.: Q the letter and queue, the line. The others include:

B – Be, Bee
D – Dee (a river in Scotland, won’t work in Scrabble)
G – Gee (as in golly gee, a legitimate exclamation, thanks to Leave it to Beaver)
J – Jay, a bird not that annoying guy from 10th grade.
T – Tee (golf) and Tea (a drink)
With an honorable mention to C which is pronounced the same as see and sea but is a good 16 letters away from the S both words start with.

Those nice folks over at Wikipedia have compiled a list of words that have Q without U, many of them loanwords from Semetic, Asian and eastern Indo-European languages like Persian. Sadly, very few work in the Merriam/Hasbro Scrabble universe.   Which makes me wonder why rial, the currency in Iran and Oman counts, while the Azerbaijani currency of qepiq does not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s