“Queue” (verb)

Long ago I wrote a post on queue, meaning what Americans would traditionally call a lineand have returned to the word from time to time. But I have concentrated on the noun form, as I’ve felt that Americans would much more frequently talk about “a queue” than say they “queued up” or “queued.” (I’ll note that I’m specifically talking about a physical line with physical people in it, not the variants of the word in music and computers, in which queue has particular meanings that are found on both sides of the Atlantic.)

Even in Britain, the noun came first, with an 1839 citation (from Thomas Carlyle) compared to this 1920 Times advert for the verb:  “Taxi-Cabs queued up for their supplies of ‘Shell.’” The first up-less verb queue isn’t until a 1978 quote from a Dick Francis novel: “We are damned lucky to have been given the few weeks’ option. They’ve got other buyers practically queueing for it.”

Francis chooses one of the two variants for the gerund, the other being queuing. They have duked it out over the years, with the streamlined form surging ahead since the 1990s, according to Google Ngram Viewer chart of British usage since 1930:

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 10.29.23 AM

At this point, American queue (noun) is quite common, one reason being that line has so many meanings that it’s not always clear which one is intended. Queue up has developed a strong presence as well, for the same reason. Yesterday this was in the Los Angeles Times–”The union hall closest to Boeing Co.‘s biggest manufacturing operation swarmed with activity Friday afternoon, as hundreds of machinist union members queued up to vote on the aerospace giant’s latest contract”–and this in the Kansas City Star: “Chappell is the first, but a few others are queued up to receive the implant, including one surgery planned for next month.”

But the up-less verb form is much less common, similar to how Americans will ring someone up, but rarely just “ring” someone. It is making inroads, however, and what a surprise that evidence should come from what could be considered the very epicenter of hipness, a Whole Foods store in San Francisco. Nancy Friedman sends in this photographic proof:

Whole Foods queue

And what a surprise: they stuck in that second “e.”

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12 responses to ““Queue” (verb)

  1. I 8 2 Q B 4 I P

  2. Dick Francis was, of course, a British steeplechase jockey before becoming a best-selling author.

  3. Without the second “e” it comes out “kwing”??

  4. Ben,
    On reading your quotation
    “…but a few others are queued up to receive the implant, including one surgery planned for next month.”
    I wonder if the author should have used ‘are cued’ to suggest ‘in a position of readiness’ rather than ‘are queued’ to mean ‘awaiting their turn in strict sequence’. To have used ‘are queueing’ would have made more sense, to me.

  5. “But the up-less verb form is much less common, similar to how Americans will ring someone up, but rarely just “ring” someone.”
    Do Americans ever use one word when two will easily do? ;-)

  6. I am given to understand that the word’s origin is the French word of the same spelling; which means, ‘tail’.

  7. “No queueing in street” – does this actually mean “standing in line” as a Brit like me would understand it? It appears to refer to parking, and therefore suggests a line of cars inching along as one after another disappears from the front.

  8. A queue also refers to the tail of hair favoured by pirates and Chinese coolies.

    I think there is a difference in nuance between, queue-up and queue.

    One ‘queues-up’ for something specific, thus having an intention to queue… queue-up for tickets for Wimbledon, queue-up for Harrods sale to start, whereas one queues in general, as a consequence rather than design… queue at the supermarket check-out, queue at passport control.

  9. And of course the ultimate crime in the UK (at least it used to be) is jumping the queue or being a ‘queue barger’.

  10. Having moved from Britain to the US, I have to say that one to put in the plus column is that while I can still say queue, I can write line. Which is much easier to spell.

  11. Children line-up (create a queue) in primary school, before entering the building.
    The only place where people do not queue, in Britain, is the pub. My dad reckoned that was because beer was never rationed during the war. But, unless the pub is crowded, people will still try to take their turn.

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