Q in English Words
A convention of English spelling is that the letter q is followed by the letter u.
Very few English words omit the u after q. The most common that come to mind are foreign place names like Iraq and Qatar, and made-up words like qwerty, Nasdaq, Compaq and Qantas.
In borrowings from languages in which the native q represents a sound unlike the sounds represented by English q, the q is usually anglicized to a k or a c:
Cabbala/Kabbalah: The name given in post-biblical Hebrew to the oral tradition handed down from Moses to the Rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud.
Koran: The sacred book of the Muslims, consisting of revelations orally delivered at intervals by Muhammad and collected in writing after his death.
fakir: Properly an indigent person, but specially applied to a Mahommedan religious mendicant, and then loosely, and inaccurately, to Hindu devotees and naked ascetics’ (Yule).
Note: The AP Stylebook, founded 1953, changed its previously recommended spelling Koran to Quran in 2000. At the same time it changed the recommended spelling from Mohammed to Muhammad. Another earlier spelling was Mahommed, as in the OED definition for fakir given above.
The most frequent pronunciation of qu is [kw], as in queen:
acquire acquit aquatic aqueous aquifer
enquire equal equine equinox esquire
quack quaff quadrant quail Quaker qualify quality quantum quarrel quarter
quartet quell quibble quiet quilt quinine quintet quip quirk
request requiem require requite
sequel sequin sequoia squab squalid squall squalor square squash squat squawk
The second most frequent pronunciation of qu is [k], is found (mostly) in French borrowings:
barque bisque bouquet briquet
clique conquer croquet
lacquer liqueur liquor
marquee masque mosque
The Spanish borrowing quinoa appeared in English as early as 1598, spelled quinua. The earliest example in the OED of the spelling quinoa is dated 1758.
Quinoa is a plant related to spinach. It enjoys popularity among the health-conscious because of its high protein content and lack of gluten. The OED lists four pronunciations, two British and two American. I’ve heard it pronounced KEEN-wah, KIN-wah, and Kwi-NO-ah. Those in the know call it KEEN-wah.
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