Word Confusion: Cue versus Queue

Posted January 15, 2018 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Those darn heterographs always mess with ya. In this case, U.S. and British usage is also at war between these word confusions: cue versus queue.

Cue is the same in American-English and British usage…until it comes to that line. Americans do love to cue everything, while the British prefer to queue up into a line of some sort — it’s probably why queue was adopted into the computer industry (on both sides of the Atlantic). Queue also means tail (from the French), referring to a single braid of hair hanging down one’s back.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Cue Queue
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: cue and queue; Oxford Dictionary: cue

A man and a woman hold up giant cards saying Applauce and Laughter at a convention

“Shawn Collins and Missy Ward at ShareASale Think Tank 2009” by Shawn Collins and Missy Ward
is under the CC BY-2.0 license, via Flickr

Cue cards tell the audience what to do.

A black-and-white photo of men and women queueing up on the sidewalk.

“Kolejka” was uploaded by Niki K and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the People’s Republic of Poland, their economy required citizens to queue for everything.

Part of Grammar:
Noun 1, 2, 3;

Verb, intransitive 2 & transitive 1, 2

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: cues
Past tense or past participle: cued
Gerund or present participle: cuing, cueing

Variant spelling of queue [U.S.]

Noun 4, 5;
Verb 4, 5, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: queues
Past tense or past participle: queued
Gerund or present participle: queuing, queueing

Anything said or done, on or off stage, that is followed by a specific line or action 1

  • A signal for action
  • A piece of information or circumstance that aids the memory in retrieving details not recalled spontaneously
    • Stimulus
  • [Psychology] A feature of something perceived that is used in the brain’s interpretation of the perception
    • A sensory signal used to identify experiences, facilitate memory, or organize responses
  • A hint or indication about how to behave in particular circumstances
  • A facility for playing through an audio or video recording very rapidly until a desired starting point is reached

The part a person is to play

  • A prescribed or necessary course of action

[Archaic] Frame of mind

  • Mood

[Pool, billiards, snooker] A long, straight, tapering wooden rod for striking the ball 2

[Shuffleboard] A long, usually wooden stick with a concave head, used to propel the disks
Hair caught at the back forming a tail or braid

A queue or file, as of persons awaiting their turn
Spelling the letter Q, q 3

Verb, intransitive:
Use a cue to strike a ball in pool, billiards, snooker, etc. 2

Verb, transitive:
Give a cue to or for 1

  • Act as a prompt or reminder
  • [Sometimes followed by up] To search for and reach a specific track on a recording

[Usually followed by in or into] To insert, or direct to come in, in a specific place in a musical or dramatic performance

To twist or tie (the hair) into a cue 2

To strike with a cue

[Chiefly British] A line or sequence of people or vehicles awaiting their turn to be attended to or to proceed 4

[Archaic] A braid of hair worn at the back

[Computing] A list of data items, commands, etc., stored so as to be retrievable in a definite order, usually the order of insertion 5

Verb, intransitive:
[Chiefly British] Take one’s place in a line 4

[Queue up] Be extremely keen to do or have something

[Often followed by up] To form in a line while waiting

[Computers] To arrange (data, jobs, messages, etc.) into a retrievable order 5

Verb, transitive:
[Often followed by up] To form in a line while waiting 4

[Computing] Arrange in a retrievable order 5

[Computers] To arrange (data, jobs, messages, etc.) into a retrievable order

An off-stage door slam was his cue to enter.

Any conversational lull was my cue for asking a question.

Bethany uses a specific number to cue up her memory as to what she is supposed to pick up.

Expectancy is communicated both by auditory and visual cues.

Of course, the pictures also provided additional cues for recall.

My teacher joked about such attitudes and I followed her cue.

The door opened right on cue.

McGee did not move, and Julia took her cue from him.

You could tell by his expression that he had missed a cue.

Who took the cue ball?

Clothing and decoration provide important cues to aid interpersonal and intrapersonal communication.

Mr. Glass asked his students, “Who knows a word that starts with cue but without the following you?”

Verb, intransitive:
“But I started cueing well, and Alan couldn’t put me away,” he said.

And the three times Regal Masters champion was soon cueing superbly.

“Stephen deserved to win it — he was cueing beautifully and produced his best form when it mattered,” said the six-times champion.

I am cueing well, but every now and then I make an unbelievable howler.

Verb, transitive:
Curious pedestrians are cued by the arrival of stretch limousines.

Marge will have a list of needs and questions on paper to cue you.

These features make it easier to cue up a tape for editing.

Full screen graphics can be cued in and cued up by using two buttons.

Since many of the program’s participants had never played a record, let alone cued one up, they began by first explaining how a record makes sound on a turntable and then showing them how to handle and cue it.

Will you cue me on my lines?

You’ll need to cue in a lighting effect.

Can you imagine having to queue for shoes?

Queues are a First-In-First-Out (FIFO) data structure.

Lao’s queue reached all the way down to his hips.

“A few years ago, I was standing in a queue behind two men and eavesdropping on their conversation.”, “Will Jargon Be the Death of the English Language?“, The Telegraph, 30 March 2014

Look at the queue at the theatre!

Verb, intransitive:
During the war, they had to queue up for food.

Companies are queuing up to move to the bay.

There are three print jobs queued up ahead of mine.

Whoever queues up first in the queue is the first to be served.

When first setting up a database, it doesn’t really matter which fields are queued first, as they can be rearranged.

Verb, transitive:
Queue those files up to be printed.

The first file queued into the queue is the first element to be deleted or removed from the list.

We’ll have to hurry if we want to be the first to queue up in line.

Noun: cue ball, cue bid, cue card, cued speech, cueist Noun: dequeue, enqueue, queuer
History of the Word:
1 Mid-16th century and of unknown origin.

2 1725-35, from the French queue meaning tail, which is from the Old French coue, from the Latin cōda, which is from the earlier cauda meaning tail, essentially denoting a long plait or pigtail.

3 1400-50 (late Middle English) cu, as a conventional adaptation in the spelling of the letter name.

4 Dates from the mid-19th century.
5 Late 16th century, as a heraldic term denoting the tail of an animal. It’s from the French and based on the Latin cauda meaning tail (see 2).

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Pool Cues is SMcCandlish’s own work under the GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

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