P and Q can make for some perky Saturday hookups

The last entry in this space provided a platform for a more-or-less true tale of undeserved punishment recalled (and still resented) from the mists of time. That column began with an innocent reference to the ancient wisdom about exercising care when using the letters ‘P’ or ‘Q’. While these are both perfectly serviceable, well-established members of the English alphabet, the fact remains that neither of them breaks any records when it comes to introducing words.

True, the letter ‘P’ occupies a full 129 pages in my Concise Oxford Dictionary, but it pales in comparison to its near neighbour, ‘S,’ which weighs in at a respectable 211 pages. Mind you, it’s still miles ahead of poor old ‘Q’, with its skimpy page count of just 11, a full page shy of the humble ‘J.’ Only ‘X,’ ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ fare more poorly. How can I put this without provoking consternation across the land? The sad reality is that neither ‘P’ nor ‘Q’ is a particularly compelling letter in its own right.

They’re sort of the alphabetical equivalent of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. Everybody knows they are there, but no one is really sure what they do. Indeed, the only thing we know about ‘Q’ is that it cannot stand without the letter ‘U’ propping it up. Except in the capital of Nunavut, where anything goes, apparently.

Yet get these two under-appreciated letters together for a drink or two on a Saturday night and they are likely to consummate a couple of interesting verbal hookups. Are you ready for the pop-quiz? (See what I did there?)

Admit it, “propinquity” is a pretty racy way of implying that things may be a bit too close for comfort. Like first cousins exchanging wedding vows, for example. Score one each for ‘P’ and ‘Q.’

Then there is the word used to describe the entitlements to which the entitled consider themselves entitled.

In everyday parlance (and far too often in print journalism), these are known as the “perks” of office—the ancillary benefits that come with the job.Within my lifetime, I fear, readers and writers alike may well lose sight of the fact that the short form for such incidental emoluments should be spelled “perqs” instead of “perks.”

It’s from the lovely 10-letter word “perquisite,” from a Latin verb meaning to “search narrowly” for something. More broadly, it refers to the extra endowments the lord of a manor might receive beyond his customary revenue.

For present purposes, along with prerequisite and propinquity, it is one of the exceedingly rare examples of ‘P’ and ‘Q’ minding each other’s business within the same word.

That might justify quaffing a celebratory pint this Saturday night. Please remember to leave a perq for the server.

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