Prostitutes and Queens, and P's and Q's! - by Robert Wilde

Many of us talk too much. But the fact that man gets tired of talking is attested to by the word palaver from the Portuguese word to talk.

In English it's often found in the phrase such a palaver meaning a lot of talk or fuss about something unimportant - there's been such a palaver in the papers recently about what that politician's been up to.

Palaver is not too far away in meaning from another word, pandemonium. There was pandemonium in the football stadium. Originally pandemonium - from Greek pan meaning all, and late Latin daemonium meaning evil spirit, meant the capital of Hell, but then writers came to use it to describe Hellish noise. Nowadays, it means angry, confused or panicky shouting and behaviour - think of English football crowds and you'll get the picture.

Panic, as in he panicked when his wife found him with another woman, and jumped out of a 4th floor window', means action in which the brain plays no part. The word is connected with the god Pan, who could shout extremely loudly when necessary, probably a bit like the wife above, who panicked her husband into jumping out of a window thereby causing all kinds of pandemonium.

That husband should have thought first - his wife might have forgiven his sexual peccadillo - from Spanish pecadillo, meaning small sin, if he had shown he was truly sorry. The famous London street Piccadilly may be named after this - in reference to the activities of ladies of the night in that fine thoroughfare.

Prostitute comes from a Latin verb which came to mean set up for sale in the market place. Nowadays the word is not only sexual in meaning; for example, you can prostitute yourself or your talents by working in a job which pays less than you deserve or does not make use of your special skills - although your boss may not agree with you.

Let's move on from these rather peculiar areas. The word peculiar has two meanings, one more common than the other. It is mostly used to mean strange but there's another meaning - eating durian is peculiar to Asian countries means it is only in Asian countries that you will find this custom. The word originates in the Latin peculium meaning private property. There is also a connection with pecu meaning cows, a throwback to the time when a man's worth was calculated in terms of the cattle he owned.

These days however, your worth is calculated differently. If you own a penthouse, you're certainly rich - but a penthouse is an apartment not a house, so why house? The answer is in changing pronunciation over the centuries, from the Latin pentis meaning a primitive three-sided building attached to the side of another one. Gradually the word - and the standard of the accommodation - changed to today's penthouse.

What sort of person lives in a penthouse, did we say? Well, a rich one, obviously, but what is that person saying about himself by living in a penthouse? Person comes from Latin persona, meaning an actor's mask, and if you accept that personality is a way of expressing - or perhaps masking if you're a bit shy - underlying character, then it hasn’t lost much of its original meaning. But the original word took different paths, and today's parson, the vicar of a church, is connected to it. The word pope, however, defining the world's most prominent religious figure, is simply derived from a Greek word for father.

To mind your p's and q's comes from a confusion in writing between the two letters, and means to pay careful attention to important matters, in which you've got to be quick to go for the main chance. Quick has two meanings in English, but one of them is rarely seen. The quick and the dead, quicksilver, and quicksand are examples of a rarer use of the word in English, meaning living, and akin to modern German erquicken meaning to refresh or enliven. quicksilver, or mercury - moves, and so does a quicksand. It's easy to see the connection between moving and living, and from there the word's extension to rapid, like the exit through the 4th floor window of that panicky husband.

In the Thai language, you sometimes hear an unusual elision of the ‘kw’ sounds and a changing of the w to an f.

A Thai girl I know often erroneously refers to Queen Elizabeth as Fiend Elizabeth and mixes her up with Princess Diana as well. She is neither a fiend - a devilishly dangerous person - nor Princess with its obvious connection to principal or main. She's the Queen, but she doesn't queen over England. But queen can be a verb, as in - I can't stand the way that woman queens it over everybody in the office, meaning shows everybody who's boss. Queen is also a politically incorrect word for a homosexual.

Enough for today! What is of quintessential importance now - from a Latin derivation meaning the fifth of the core components which were thought to make up all matter - is, for me, a beer. Nowadays, quintessential is used to mean of the utmost importance, or to express the real nature of something. That would be in beer a strong smell of hops and a hefty alcoholic kick!

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