Noun. Line, as in the thing you stand in, or, if you are from New York, on. Also verb, intransitive, usually followed by “up.” I was inspired to include this because just this morning I was at my local grocery store, and noticed that a sign indicating where the “line” for checkout should start had been replaced by one indicating where the “queue” should start. Queue may possibly have initiated the current crop of not one-off Britishisms; a Google Ngram indicates a steady rise in popularity since the early 1950s. Presumably its appeal has something to do with the ambiguity-inducing multiple meanings of line, line up and (these days) online. Also worth noting is a recent vogue for using queue up instead of the traditional cue up, as in cue up a recording. Clearly, further investigation is called for.“Whatever the other attractions of the Lillian Hellman play [“The Little Foxes”], which opens on May 7, the most talked about one is unquestionably Elizabeth Taylor, its star, who has never been on Broadway. On Monday, while a queue formed in the rain, the Martin Beck sold $120,000 worth of tickets.” (New York Times, March 18, 1981) “Hundreds queue up to be extras for upcoming Bonnie and Clyde film” (Headline, Joplin Globe, March 5, 2011)

27 thoughts on ““Queue”

  1. At the risk of sounding pedantic, cue and queue are not alternative spellings. They mean different things. Cue is sort of like a prompt– like cueing an actor his lines. Queue meaning line comes from the French word literally for tail but used to mean the same thing.

      1. Well, it is a little ambiguous – in the old days of vinyl the DJ actually had to pause the record at the exact start, thus avoiding any wasteful silence when they came to play it, but perhaps these days music radio presenting only consists of telling the computer which track to play next…

      2. Cue is to start or define the start time of a record//song whereas queue is to put it in line to be played, so both can be used for records although not interchangeably.

  2. [native British English speaker]

    I’m not sure that ‘queue up’ really is used outside the sense in the article headline [as in ‘lots and lots of people are in a really long line’].

    Idiomatically, you would say ‘I’m going to go queue for [tickets, coffee, whatever]’, rather than ‘queue up for’.

    1. Interesting, and thanks. Seems to indicate that in this case, as in “chat up” and some others, the Americans not only have borrowed the expression but have altered it.

    2. Perhaps its because I speak Irish-English and not British-English but we would say “I’m going to queue up for” whatever.

    3. ‘Up’ is all over the place nowadays, forming phrasal verbs with words that used to stand alone quite happily. But in my experience, mostly in London, the two terms are fully interchangeable and have been for my 70+ years.

  3. I suspect that it is because Americans have said “to line up for something” we’ve started plugging “queue” into the construction, rather than borrow the grammar of it as well.

  4. My guess is that Netflix is a major force in recent usage in the US. I have a very smart friend, who attempted to refer to his Queue of movies as his “KYOO-ee” as a result of only reading and never hearing the word. To be fair he was living in Arkansas, which might not be the first place to adopt NOOBs.

  5. One of the more annoying words used by American Anglophiles with pretensions of Empire, The reason is that these are words which are unfamiliar of use to most of the US population when used in the same manner as in the UK. so the person using them is implying a certain air of superiority because he can use them properly. It’s kind of like using multisyllabic words correctly, only a bit more obnoxious. These words include cheers, presenter, chat show, ginger, brilliant, a coffee, and university among others. Of course, I am guilty myself of engaging in such behavior, but I began dropping little britishisms into my vocabulary way back in the 70s when I started watching “The Good Life” (the Good Neighbors”) on PBS, and I liked them. I do not do it much any longer as I hate sounding like a posh git.

  6. What pompous nonsense. ‘Line’ does not have the specific meaning of ‘waiting in a line’ that queue does. A line is just a configuration of people, like a row. You have a LOT of poor language to pay us back for, like y’know WHATever!

  7. I wonder if you could shed some light on why when I said to an American that e would have to “queue” for something, he was most put out – I assumed that this indicated not just that the word was not in common use in USAland, but that it was in some way offensive. In the light of the first comment to this item, I wonder if that is indeed the case?

    1. A friend of mine once travelled to Norway and had to catch a connecting flight at Heathrow. He was standing in the terminal with his boarding pass, and a man came up to him and asked, “Excuse me, are you queueing?” Well, Brandon just stared at him, so the man, who was getting exasperated, said again, more slowly and louder, “are you trying to queue?” Brandon looked around to see if he was somehow doing something wrong or offensive without knowing it, and sheepishly said, “I…I’m just waiting in line…” So, maybe the person you were talking to was just extremely confused, but did not wish to look stupid by not knowing the meaning of the word you used. Just a thought. 🙂

    1. It was before netflix. Queue has always been the term for “download” line-ups in peer-to-peer applications, since the nineties I guess. Queuing / Queue can be said for lines of people in Canada, but it sounds very formal.

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