Tel: 0345 621 4321

Getting right on Q: 7 words where Q is not followed by U

John Murray

Probably the most peculiar letter in the English alphabet is the 17th one. Rarely used at the best of times, what makes it even more exclusive is that it almost always needs another letter beside it to be of any use at all.

Aside from struggling to get on with any letter other than U, the Q also doesn’t really represent any sound we can’t make just as well with other letters. There’s no reason why we can’t spell ‘quick’ as ‘kwick’, or ‘quiche’ as ‘kiche’. As for the word ‘queue’, what on earth is going on there? Barely a single letter in that word is behaving as it should do.

Still, Q does have its place in our language and culture. It’s the name of a James Bond character, a leading music magazine and the first letter on our keyboards. It’s clung onto its place in the English language and, just occasionally, can function without the help of its vowel friend.

Here are seven U-less Q-words worth remembering for next time you play Countdown or Scrabble:


Let’s start with this word of Arabic origin for a vertical shaft in which water is stored. You’re most likely to find qanats in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, and you’d probably be very glad if you did.


Probably the most common ‘Q without U’ word (yes, alright, there is a U in it, but not straight after the Q), the burqa is a garment worn by some Muslim women to cover their bodies, including the face.


An odd-looking word of Eskimo origin, an umiaq is a larger alternative to a kayak, and is used for whale hunting in parts in Alaska and northern Canada.


As mentioned, our keyboard layout starts with a Q, and that’s not by pure chance. The layout we know today was conjured up by Christopher Latham Sholes nearly 150 years ago, and was designed to keep letters that commonly follow one another apart so that typewriter keys didn’t jam. Similarly, the Q and other lesser-used letters were kept away from the ‘home keys’ (the ones our fingers rest on if we touch type).


Alaskan Inuits use this word to refer to muskox wool. It’s not the cheapest of materials – a qiviut scarf can set you back around £200.


Playing this one in Scrabble gets you the funniest looks imaginable! Unless, perhaps, you’re playing a specialist in Islamic law, who would know that a waqf is a donation made for religious reasons.


If you were in Albania, you would struggle to get by without several thousand of these. The qindar is the smallest unit of currency there, and you need 100 of them to make a lek

These are in addition to the Scrabble staples of qi (a life force in Chinese philosophy), qat (an African plant) and qin (a stringed instrument), all of which shows that Q can, just about, live with or without U. Presumably, this is not what Bono was singing about in his 1987 hit.

John is every inch the wordsmith and loves a game of Scrabble above all else. With experience writing for newspapers, John’s time at university was spent studying Creative Writing – something which comes across in his love of the pun.

Facebook Twitter Google+ 


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Visit our pages on: