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GET IN THE 'Q'! (Wordy Weekly XIX)

Now this is an interesting week (hang on, they’re ALL interesting). Greek has no Q’, so what do we do (huh, rhyme not intended)? You will see shortly! We start with Latin.


‘Q’ is an oft used letter in Latin, far more so than in English. A significant number of Latin’s pronouns, relative and interrogative, begin with ‘Q’ and there are plenty of other words as well. The pronouns qui (who – relative), quis (who? – interrogative), for example, became ‘che’ in Italian, quoi in French.

So, here we go!

i) QUALITY: ‘a particular property of a person or thing, usually positive’ – ‘the singer’s voice had a beautiful quality’, or ‘that’s quality’ (a rather slang expression, praising something). The word comes from the Latin quails, the interrogative adjective ‘what sort of’, also used as a relative, ‘of the sort which’.

ii) QUANTITY: ‘the amount of something’. Also from a Latin interrogative/relative adjective, quantus – ‘how great, how big’.

iii) QUERULOUS: You have probably noticed that I am rather fond of the slightly old-fashioned, multi-syllable, rather pleasing sounding word, and this is one of them. This fascination has nothing to do with using fancy long words, so much as it is often these words that demonstrate the rich influence of the Classics on our own wonderful language of English. Well ‘querulous’ meaning ‘inclined to complain’, ‘prone to frequent complaint’ (those are the polite versions 😉), comes from the Latin verb queror, queri, questus sum – ‘I complain’. This verb is also the origin of the word ‘QUARRELSOME’. ‘QUARREL’ specifically comes from the Latin noun ‘querula’ – complaint. Latin also has the following verb for quarrelling or brawling, ‘rixor’.

iv) EN-QUIRY: ‘to look into, ask questions about, investigate’. The ‘QUIRY’ bit of the word comes from the Latin verb quaero, quarere, quaesivi quaesitum – ‘look for, seek, enquire’. The word ‘QUERY’ is also a derivative. In fact, ‘QUERY’ is the second part of ‘ENQUIRY’. The ‘E’ has changed to an ‘I’ because the verb is compounded.

v) QUEST: ‘a mission or task with a particular goal’. The word is also from quaero, specifically from the fourth part quaesitum meaning ‘that which is sought’.


No letter ‘Q’. So, what shall we look at this week? Well, here is a good question. How on earth did Greek authors writing about Rome (Polybius, Appian, Diodorus Siculus, Cassius Dio, for example), render the names of Romans whose names began with ‘Q’? Well, one way was:

For ‘Quintus’ = Κοΐντος (Koiintos)

Yep, they used to flip a drachm over it! It was decided by a COIN TOSS (okay, I get it, enough).

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