Minding your P’s and Q’s

The expression, mind your p’s and q’s probably dates back to the 18th century.  There are several explanations of the meaning of the phrase.  I grew up with the meaning of either watching your language or minding your manners.  However, I am using it today as a segway into minding your Prosigns and Q signals.

In the world of CW, continuous wave transmission, we use the language of Morse Code.  Like a language, there are many nuances that must be learned in order to effectively communicate with others throughout the world.  In this post, we will take a brief look at some of the more common P’s and Q’s used in the Parks on the Air (POTA) program.

Prosigns are one or 2 letters used as a kind of telegraphy shorthand.  Often, 2 letters are mashed together to form one character.  For example, the prosign BK which stands for Back to You, would sound like this dah-di-di-di-dah-di-dah, and not dah-di-di-di, dah-di-dah.  When you see prosigns written with letters mashed together, they have an overbar to signify that they are sent together.  Here are some of the Prosigns you may hear during a POTA contact or conversation:

AS (with overbar)This prosign means to wait.  Typically an activator will request a wait to fix something with their station or take a short break.

BK (with overbar) as stated earlier, this prosign means back to you.  The sender is done sending and waiting for the other operator to respond.

DE This is from.  Probably the most widely known prosign

K – Stands for over and an invitation for any station to transmit.  CQ POTA DE KK4Z K

KN (with overbar) Invitation for the named station to transmit.  E.g.  W3AAX DE KK4Z

N – Negative or no

R – Roger, received, or yes.

SK (with overbar) End of contact same as 73.

Note: Neither MS Word nor WordPress has an easy way to insert and overbar. An overbar is a bar on top of the letters to signify that they are sent together.

Q signals are another form of telegraphy shorthand.  They are composed of 3 letters beginning with a Q.  Q codes or Q signals are different in that they can either be a statement or a question.  The Q code is turned into a question by adding a question mark to the end of the signal. Listed here are some of the more common Q codes and their uses.

QRL?  Is this frequency in use?
QRL This frequency is in use.

QRM? Are you bothered by noise? (typically, manmade)
QRM I am bothered by noise.

QRN? Are you bothered by natural noise (lightning)
QRN I am bothered by natural noise.

QRO?  Shall I increase my power?
QRO Increase your power.

QRP?  Shall I decrease my power?
QRP Decrease your power.

QRQ? Shall I send faster?
QRQ Send faster by…

QRS? Shall I send slower?
QRS Send more slowly.

QRT? Shall I stop sending?
QRT I close all transmissions.

QRV?  Are you ready?
QRV I am ready.

QRZ?  Who’s calling me?
QRZ You were called by…

QSB? Does my signal fade?
QSB Your signal fades.

QSL?  Can you receive?
QSL Confirmed, received

QSO? Can you communicate with…directly?
QSO I can communicate with…directly.

There are many more codes out there but these are probably the most common you will find outside of a CW traffic net. Hopefully, this will help those learning the new and fascinating language of CW/Morse Code. The beauty of this language is that it is used worldwide and it doesn’t matter what your first language is. Enjoy de KK4Z SK

One thought on “Minding your P’s and Q’s”

  1. KN means “no breaks” or interruption from other stations. Mind your P’s and Q’s is a seafaring term for “Mind your Pints and Quarts” and don’t drink too much at the pub.


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