Holy Chihuly*, somebody found what CQ means

I’ve been a copy editor for more than 15 years, and in all that time, none of my coworkers nor anybody I’ve asked has been able to say where we get the dorky abbreviation CQ, which we use every day.

These are copy editors, mind you.  People who will cheerfully spend half an hour tracking down a historical reference, who are daily required to know acronyms from LULAC to snafu to AASHTO**.  My people.  And when you ask them where CQ comes from, they look vaguely into the sky and say, “I dunno. I never heard anybody say for sure.”

CQ, as folks who work at newspapers know, means “I checked it,” as in “I called that phonenumber and it really does go to Joe’s Pie Factory” or “This book title looks wrong but I got it off the actual book cover” or, sometimes, “My editor told me to CQ everything in this story and I took a shortcut.”

Well, around midday today, Gawker commenter organicgardener (a handle I can respect for many reasons) posted an item that has rocked my world. A story about some NYT editing notes that accidentally got published had readers wondering what the mysterious [cq] notation was.

And organicgardener, with the clarity born of honest toil, posted:

I Google this and find, to my chagrin, that it pops up immediately on Wikipedia (and Answers.com, which scrapes Wikipedia). Oh, the irony: Copy editors, or at least me, lead the charge against Wikipedia because it’s untrustworthy. At best, reporters and editors alike should use it only for its sources. So, OK, what’s their source for this?  Hmmm, they don’t cite one. Another online encyclopedia cites … Wikipedia. And throws in “casus quo,” to confuse things (“in this case” makes no sense). Merriam-Webster, which copy editors loooove, doesn’t mention a journalistic use of CQ (call to quarters, change of quarters, commercial quality) but gives the meaning of “cadit quaestio” as “The question drops; the argument collapses.”

Aiiieee!, I think. We have been undone, as a tribe, by our love for dictionaries and our loathing of Wikipedia!  More likely, actually, that when I was a young nubbin of a copy editor first asking this question, we did not have the Internets, and I just eventually quit asking. (See, copy editors do eventually let a question go. After, say, seven years.) Perhaps newly minted copy editors ponder this question for no more than 20 seconds before turning to the Google.

On another topic, the original Gawker story was newsworthy to me not because I think the note was actually nasty, or because it’s unusual to see editing notes pop into a story (that’s why I discourage editors from making personal notes, and why if a story comes to me with editorial comments or facts that have been questioned but left in notes mode, I’ll often strip the notes out before publishing. Bad things happen) — but because they fact-check every little thing down to calling the elementary school to confirm employment in 1975 for a secondary person in a wedding announcement. THAT is the kind of editing that can and should inspire true confidence — and the kind of editing that goes by the wayside as staffs are slashed — and yet, the NYT is reviled for its mistakes. Just sayin’.

* “Holy Chihuly” is just something I say so that I don’t say something else, much as I use “Rat parts!” and “Sunday britches.” Dale Chihuly‘s a glass artist whose possibly Slovakian surname is too cool to have only one use. Nobody else, far as I know, says “Rat parts” or takes Mr Chihuly’s name in vain. “Sunday britches,” though, I got from my Pappa (grandfather).

** The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials… known until 1973 as AASHO, when it was changed because its members included transportation officials outside of state highway departments, of course, and not because everyone had been snickering for years.  Their current logo emphasizes the T in a suspiciously conspicuous manner. (I first read about the group in The Straight Dope, a reference work that surpasses Merriam-Webster in all important categories, such as smart-assery.)

6 thoughts on “Holy Chihuly*, somebody found what CQ means

Add yours

  1. I use CQ when trying to re-establish a connection or reaching someone who has not responded to past attempts. As in radio talk: Seek You.
    But then, I haven’t written for “official” publication since the 1960s and in my 5-year old blog (http://chuckography.blogspot.com) I do my own fact-checking. Such as it is.

    1. That is so cool! I had no idea about a radio use of CQ. Hmm — mostly, when I am working by myself, I will bold the items that need checking, then unbold them later. I like your blog 🙂 If you are ever in Central Texas, lemme know — I can rattle off some “interior Mexican” restaurants as we call ’em here to distinguish from border and from Tex-Mex. But Tex-Mex is my native cuisine and I can point you to some good places for that, too!

  2. Yes, AASHTO, well known as the arbiter of all Interstate and US route numbering. Sometimes mistaken as author of the MUTCD, which is of course the work of the FHWA.

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