While some English expressions – like “it’s raining cats and dogs” – seem a bit random (why, after all, do we use pets to describe a heavy downpour?) the origins of other seem almost obvious. It is almost as though the creators of “mind your p’s and q’s” had English language students in mind when they selected those two letters. After all, given that this expression means “to be extra careful,” it is especially good advice when you consider how many commonly confused words start with just these two letters. Consider p, which has two examples of homophones of words that sound the same but are written with three completely spellings!
Peek vs. Peak vs. Pique
Although all three versions of this homophone rhyme with “sneak,” the similarities end there. The double e peek, for example, is a verb while the other two are both noun. As such their meanings differ wildly. While peeking is similar in meaning to spy, a peak is simply the highest point of an object (be it a profit or mountain). Meanwhile, the five-letter pique is a horse of a different color entirely: it is the word used to describe a frustrated outburst. This can be confusing even for native speakers so try to keep things straight with the following example sentence: “The exhausted climber had a pique when he peeked the faraway peak.”
Petal vs. Pedal vs. Peddle
These almost-triplets are the other big stumbling block provided by the letter p. Fortunately, context often reveals the differences. For example, while both petal with a t and pedal with a d are nouns, the former refers to “a flower segment” while the latter refers to “the part of a bicycle or car operated with the feet.” Meanwhile, the six letter, double-d peddle is a verb that is synonymous with “sell.” Thus while vendors could peddle either petals or pedals they would rarely deal in both!