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Q tips: some rule-breaking words beginning with q

One of the first spelling rules that young children are taught is ‘i before e except after c’. Once they encounter words like neighbour, foreign, and weight, it soon becomes clear that there are exceptions. The same is also then true of another rule, namely ‘always use u after q’. There are at least a handful of words in use in English which contain a ‘q’ which is not followed by a ‘u’. Most of these words – though now in use in English – derive from other languages, even other alphabets, which helps explain why they don’t adhere to common English spelling rules.


word definition language it derives from
burqa a long garment worn by Muslim women Urdu & Persian burqa / Arabic burqu
fiqh the theory or philosophy of Islamic law Arabic; literally ‘understanding’
Iraqi a person from Iraq; relating to Iraq Arabic
niqab a Muslim woman’s veil Arabic niqāb
qadi a Muslim judge Arabic; from qāḑī, ‘to judge’
qanat an irrigation tunnel Persian, from Arabic qanāt ’reed, pipe, channel’.
qasida an Arabic or Persian poem Arabic qaṣīda
qawwali Muslim devotional music Arabic qawwāli, from qawwāl ’loquacious’, also ‘singer’.
qawwal a qawwali singer (see above)
qi the life force, in Chinese philosophy Chinese, from  ‘air, breath’.
qibla[h] the direction towards Mecca Arabic; literally ‘that which is opposite’
qigong a system of physical exercises Chinese, from ‘breath’ + gōng ‘skill, practice’
qin a Chinese seven-stringed zither Chinese, from qìn
qindar / qintar an Albanian unit of money Albanian qindar, from qind ’hundred’
qiviut wool from the musk ox Eastern Canadian Inuit
tariqa[t] the Sufi method of spiritual learning Arabic ṭarīqa ’manner, way, creed’.
waqf a Muslim endowment Arabic, literally ‘stoppage, immobilization (of ownership of property)’, from waqafa ’come to a standstill’.


That leaves at least one more word where the q is not followed by u, which doesn’t derive from a different language, but instead has been constructed from elements of English – qwerty. As you will probably know, it reflects the first six letters on the top row of letter keys on a standard English-language typewriter or computer keyboard, from left to right. Early instances (as far back as 1897) of qwerty include its use (as a string of letters) to represent nonsense and some where it appears to have been used to act as a text placeholder and then published by mistake, without having been substituted for the intended text. As an adjective, referring to the keyboard arrangement, qwerty is used as early as 1929, and a year later as a noun, according to current Oxford English Dictionary research.

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