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In the third season TNG episode "Deja Q", Q has his powers stripped by the Q Continuum and is exiled to the Enterprise in human form. Q has a discussion with Data about humans and comes out with this line:

Q: Humans are such commonplace little creatures. They roam the galaxy looking for something, they know not what.

Now, this "know not what" business is quite an archaism. Usually in modern English we don't follow verbs with not except modals (can, would, do) and negatives are usually formed with such constructions (Cannot/can't, would not/wouldn't, do not/don't, did not/didn't etc.) Colloquially, you would probably say "Humans roam the galaxy looking for something and they don't even know what they're looking for."

Is this a reference to something or just some weird affectation the writers imposed on Q here? Why? Has Q spoken like this at other times?

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    It might be a reference to classical literature, and also for dialog to be effective it has to have a rhythm and musicality to it, so this might have been the most musical construction the screenwriter was able to formulate. "They know not" is a construction used multiple times in the King James Bible. – Todd Wilcox Jul 24 '18 at 16:45
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    This could be a biblical reference as mentioned by Todd, Luke 23:34: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." To me it would match the condescending paternalistic attitude of Q, as well as offer the connotation that humanity needs to be forgiven for being basically apes in spaceships. – Jeff Lambert Jul 24 '18 at 20:17
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    "Know not what" is a reasonably common archaic phrase, in my experience. It's almost reached the status of idiom (which often have their roots in things which once were regular parts of the language and aren't anymore, when people keep saying them anyway). Except that "know not what" isn't part of the everyday language, it's generally only used when you want to sound a bit "poetical" or "deep" (which is exactly what both Q in-universe and the show creators out-of-universe are doing here). – Ben Jul 25 '18 at 0:04
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    I wouldn't call this an 'archaism'. It might be old fashioned, but it's still in use. – Pharap Jul 25 '18 at 3:57
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    ...and they don't even know what they're looking for. This is the sort of English up with which I will not put! – J... Jul 25 '18 at 9:48
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Upon @Xantec's suggestion I looked for the original script. On st-minutiae, we have a script labelled FINAL DRAFT dated 11/14/89 which actually contains this line instead!

Q: Humans are such commonplace creatures. They roam the galaxy looking for something, and they don't even know what it is. (emphasis added)

So this at least suggests that decisions were made by some combination of the actor and the director around shooting time to streamline the delivery.

Commentary: The actual delivery is not only less of a mouthful, but it does sort of disambiguate the potential interpretation of the script line as "They roam the galaxy looking for something and when they do find it they don't even know what they've found" as opposed to "They roam the galaxy and they don't even know what they seek." It's clear the intent is the second, which the actual delivery does clear up.

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    Good find. I was just about to post this :-) – Valorum Jul 24 '18 at 17:21
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    That's what going to Juilliard will do - much better delivery than what was written – NKCampbell Jul 24 '18 at 18:10
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    The change also avoids the interpretation that humans don't know what the galaxy is. – jaxad0127 Jul 24 '18 at 19:12
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    Dialog "fixes" like this are done often by actors and directors when otherwise good stories have clunky dialog. According to Harrison Ford, bad dialog plagued the first Star Wars movie, and they had to do a lot of on-the-spot fixes. – Todd Wilcox Jul 24 '18 at 19:39
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    Not sure it's just for "streamlining". It also sounds more poetic. – Barmar Jul 24 '18 at 21:00
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The John DeLancie Q was a loquacious character who was always turning phrases and being melodramatic. One of my favorites was this one, where Q has regained his powers, thanks to the exploits of the Enterprise

Au contraire, mon capitaine!

Q would continue to refer to Picard as "Mon capitaine" for the rest of the series.

  • Q was calling Picard that nickname as far back in his first season, although the line is not in the original script for “Hide and Q.” There was a lot of conflict between Maurice Hurley and Gene Roddenberry about how to write Q, which led to Hurley demanding to be credited for the screenplay under a pseudonym because Roddenberry had rewritten it so much. The mystery and grandiosity of Q was more Roddenberry—“Mon capitan” doesn’t appear in Hurley’s draft. – Davislor Jul 25 '18 at 16:33
  • Hurley’s script for “Hide and Q” was clearly intended to write the character out of the show for good. Indeed, even the episode as aired ends with Q promising never to interfere with humanity again. It was Hurley himself who would write Q’s next appearance, “Q Who,” and retcon that promise away without explanation. That’s where the character of Q finally crystallizes into how the show will use him: a sinister god, intrigued by Picard, and willing to upend the universe to force him to admit that he’s too smug. – Davislor Jul 25 '18 at 16:43
  • The best part of Q's character was always his attempts to get attention and play tricks on Picard, and how Picard, while always rebuking him, clearly secretly loves the guy... Kind of like the Dean/Crowley dynamic on Supernatural... – Drunken Code Monkey Jul 26 '18 at 1:16

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