Q the Letter
Q ("kyoo") is the 17th letter and 13th consonant of the alphabet. Despite its position of honor on the QWERTY keyboard, Q is the one of the three least-used letters in the English language (explaining its value of 10 points in SCRABBLE). In the grammar of English and most Romance languages, the rule is that Q is immediately followed by a U, and is pronounced as /kw/. The letter Q derives from the Phoenician qoph, and is both historically and phonetically linked to the letter K. It had achieved its present graphical form by the mid-Latin period.

Aside from the uppercase 'Q' and the lowercase 'q', this letter also can be represented in the following ways:
Morse code: --.-
ASCII: 81 (uppercase), 113 (lowercase)
Semaphore: LH high, RH out
Unicode: Q (uppercase), q (lowercase)
Phonetic alphabet: "Quebec"

          * *
Braille:  * *
          * .

Q the Movie
In 1982, writer/director Larry Cohen had the perfect formula for a B movie. You have a dragon fly around the Big Apple skyline, stopping only to snack upon window washers and nude sunbathers lounging on their rooftops. What could make this better? Have Shaft and Caine from "Kung Fu" track it down! "Q" (alternately "Q: The Winged Serpent") was the result.

The plot goes something like this: The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl is summoned to modern-day (in 1982, at least) New York City in the form of a winged serpent. It makes a nest at the top of the landmark Chrysler Building, whence it searches for its topless prey. The NYPD assigns Detective Shepard (David Carradine) and Sergeant Powell (Richard Roundtree) to investigate a rash of disappearances. With the aid of a street thug (Michael Moriarty), the cops uncover the lair, kill the creature and finally track down the museum worker who summoned the hungry god.

Although the film was marred by low-grade stop motion special effects (reminiscent of Clash of the Titans), it has a passionate cult following. Moriarty delivers an intense -- if somewhat misplaced -- performance as a junkie career criminal trying to move up in station. The door for a sequel (yet to be made) was left open, as one of Quetzalcoatl's unhatched eggs was left behind in its nest. duh-duh-DUH!

Q the Music
According to The All-Music Guide, five albums titled "Q" have been released. They are:

Additionally, AMG lists five artists named "Q", as well as one "The Q". No biographical information for any of these artists is available, so it is possible that there are duplicate listings. Several artists have recorded songs titled "Q".

Q the Characters
James Bond - In Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, as well as the movies based on them, 007 usually pays a visit to "Q" at least once. Q's job was to oversee the laboratory that developed Bond's trademark spy gadgets (including the watch laser, the pen bomb and the myriad of weapons/devices installed in Bond's fleet of sports cars). Welshman Desmond Llewelyn portrayed Q (revealed to be a Major Boothroyd in Fleming's novels) in seventeen Bond films over the course of 36 years and five Bonds. Only Llewelyn's death in December 1999 ended his streak, with English funnyman John Cleese taking up the mantle of Q for 2002's Die Another Day (and the upcoming Bond feature, set for a 2005 release).

Star Trek - Introduced in the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the race of seemingly omnipotent beings known as the Q Continuum -- and especially the recurring character known as "Q" (John deLancie) -- have shown up repeatedly in the Star Trek series. Individually, any member of the Continuum is known as a Q. In total, deLancie's Q appeared in eight episodes of TNG, one of Deep Space 9 and three of Voyager.

Get Smart - The Washington Chief of CONTROL (Maxwell Smart's spy agency in the mid-60s sitcom) also bore the codename "Q". Newer agents had numbered codenames -- like "86" (Smart, played by Don Adams) and "99" (played by Barbara Felton) -- but the Chief's tenure with CONTROL dated to a time when only letters were needed. (From this, we can infer that he was the 17th spy to join the organization.) Usually known as "Chief," he was played for the duration of the series by veteran actor Edward Platt.

K.A.O.S. - In the LARP game K.A.O.S. (Killing as an Organized Sport), the title "Q" is given to the organizer and head official of a "killing round." Q is in charge of setting start and finish times for the round, establishing ground rules, making rulings on problems not covered within the rules, etc. Q, true to the title's roots in spy fiction, is also responsible for weaponry, including approving new weapons and defusing "letter bombs". Most requests must be accompanied by a small bribe, usually sweets like chocolate fish or a can of soda. Q usually appoints a "K", who acts on behalf of Q when he/she is not available.

Q in Mathematics and Applied Science
Q and q are commonly used in mathematical and scientific equations to represent variables, constants and other numbers (or sets of numbers). Here is a brief list:

  • In thermodynamics, capital Q denotes the property of heat. In the First Law of Thermodynamics, it is stated as:

    Q = dE - W

    ...meaning that heat is equal to the total change of energy in a system minus the amount of work done within that system. Or, for those who like the calculus...

    ∮(dQ - dW) = 0

    ...meaning that the differentials of heat and work within a closed, cyclical system are equal.

  • In algebra, the double struck Q (ℚ) represents a set or field of rational numbers.
  • In physics, q is most often used to represent electrical charge.
  • Engineers use Q (or, more correctly, Q-factor) to refer to the factor of magnification (or diminuation) to a signal or power source in order to bring a target to resonance. This is especially important in designing musical instruments and audio equipment.

Q the Nickname
Not many names begin with the letter 'Q', so the usage of "Q" as a nickname is rather limited. Two celebrities that answer to Q are Quincy Jones and Quentin Tarantino.

In the British Army, as well as other armies that follow the British model, "Q" or "The Q" is short for "(the) quartermaster." The quartermaster is the NCO responsible for the issuance and upkeep of military stores. Units usually have either a RQMS (Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant) or a CQMS (Company Quartermaster Sergeant), or both. The character Q from the James Bond novels/films draws his nickname from this usage.

Q the Abbreviation
In addition to the uses outlined in the "Nicknames" section (see above), "Q" is used frequently in the customer support field as an abbreviation for the homophone "queue." "The Q" is the amount of calls waiting on hold for a customer service representative, sometimes displayed on toteboards or call monitoring software.

More frequently, "Q" is used as an abbreviation for "question" in the very common "FAQ" and "Q and A" types of documents. This abbreviation is also employed for transcribing interviews and for printing jokes.

In the worlds of chess and card games, Q is used commonly as the abbreviation for "queen." For instance, the queen of spades is usually recorded in most card games as "Q♠", but bridge notation flip-flops it, writing it as "♠Q". Similarly, a set of moves in chess may be transcribed in Simplified Algebraic Notation much like...

    WHITE       BLACK
17. Na4?        Qb4+ (Queen moves to square b4, places White in check) 
18. Ke2         Rxf2+ 
19. Bxf2        Qd2+ (Queen to d2, check again)
20. (resigns)

Q is the official NYSE ticker symbol for Qwest Communications.

A puzzling Q-abbreviation is the idiom "Mind your p's and q's." Etymologists have yet to come up with a definitive single source for the phrase, which may have its origins in pub bookkeeping, French dancing or typography. See the node for the phrase for a much more thorough treatment.

One final, and much more recent, usage of the Q-abbreviation is the "-Q" substitution for "...-k You". This produces such recognizable -- to a fifth-grader, at least -- forms as "Ten-Q" and the immortal "Fah-Q".

Cue the Appendix
Q's Star Trek appearances:

Cue the Sources
Unicode - http://www.unicode.org
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) - http://www.imdb.com
Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology (1990), Anthony R. Philpotts, 498 pp., Prentice Hall
Georgia State University, HyperPhysics - http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/emcon.html
KAOS - http://kaos.org.nz
startrek.com: Library: Aliens: Q - http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/library/aliens/article/70700.html
The All-Music Guide - http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll