"mind your p's and q's"(Phrase Origins)
This expression, meaning "be very careful to behave correctly", has been in use from the 17th century on. Theories include: an admonishment to children learning to write; an admonishment to typesetters (who had to look at the letters reversed); an admonishment to seamen not to soil their navy pea-jackets with their tarred "queues" (pigtails); "mind your pints and quarts"; "mind your prices and quality"; "mind your pieds and queues" (either feet and pigtails, or two dancing figures that had to be accurately performed); the substitution of /p/ for "qu" /kw/ in the speech of uneducated ancient Romans; or the confusion by students learning both Latin and Ancient Greek of such cognates as _pente_ and _quintus_. And yes, we've heard the joke about the instruction to new sextons: "Mind your keys and pews." The most plausible explanation is the one given in the latest edition of Collins English Dictionary: an alteration of "Mind your 'please's and 'thank you's".
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