On the Q.T.

Keith Olbermann joked on MSNBC’s “Countdown” on Monday night that Lewis “Scooter” Libby is “the last person in America to use the phrase ‘on the Q.T.'” Indeed, the phrase, which came up in testimony at Libby’s trial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in the disclosure of a CIA operative’s name, probably struck many people as old-fashioned and maybe even unfamiliar.

Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary, testified that Libby talked to him at lunch about Valerie Plame Wilson and told Fleischer that the information was “on the Q.T.,” meaning that it was secret. Here is the quote from the testimony: Fleischer testified. “I believe he mentioned her name and said something like, ‘This is hush-hush, this on the Q.T., not very many people know this.'”

What does “on the Q.T.” mean? It’s easy to understand in context. It appears to mean “on the quiet.” But where did it come from? At World Wide Words, the phrase is traced to an old English song. Another British site, Phrase Finder offers even more information about Q.T.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.