On The QT
Opinions are divided on the origin of the expression ‘on the QT’, a slang expression which indicates that the subject under discussion is confidential.
Most people agree that it’s simply an abbreviation of ‘quiet’, albeit a strange one, using the first and last letters. However, both the US and the UK claim first ownership of this phrase. US wordsmiths cite that country’s love of abbreviations, as evidenced by OK, PDQ and others, as evidence that ‘on the QT’ fell into this tradition.
The British claim comes via Robert Hendrickson, in The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. Hendrickson says that ‘on the QT’ comes from a British ballad in 1870. However, this has been disputed as he provided no evidence for the claim.
Back in the US, the Cambridge Jeffersonian of Ohio is reported to have published a vaudeville song from 1879 with the line: ‘She tipples on the strict QT’. George Moore’s A Mummer’s Wife seems to be the first place that the phrase appears in print. This was published in 1884.
The phrase fell out of regular use for a while, then became popular once again as part of the tagline for LA Confidential in 1997: ‘off the record, on the QT and very hush-hush.’
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