Cue and Queue

cue and queue
In Lessons From the Land of Pork Scratchings (2008), Greg Gutfeld says, "I like the word queue because, in order to spell it, you must first ask four vowels to stand in line behind a consonant. The word is an embarrassment of riches, vowelwise. And that must drive the vowels nuts. Because they are probably British.". (Jurgen Ziewe/Getty Images)

Although the words cue and queue are pronounced the same (in other words, they're homophones), they have different meanings. 

Definition and Usage: Cue

The noun cue refers to a signal or a prompt to do something (such as speak a line in a play). A production assistant holds up a cue card to show a speaker on camera what to say. The assistant isn't on camera but next to it, so the speaker looks as if he or she is talking directly to the viewer.

In addition, the noun cue refers to a rod used for hitting balls in the game of pool, billiards, or snooker. As a verb, cue means to give a signal or a prompt.

"To cue up something (such as a DVD, a security camera, or a digital recorder) is to set it up to play at a particular point. For example, "She cued up the last of the video again and checked the time stamp on the image" (M. Diane Vogt, "Surviving Toronto").

Definition and Usage: Queue

The noun queue (more common in British English than in American English) refers to a line of people who are waiting for something or to a sequence of items. The noun queue can also refer to a braid of hair or (in computing) a list of data items. As a verb, queue means to form or join a line.

To queue up is to form or join a line. For example, "At breakfast, they queued up to get their meal tickets verified, then queued up again to get a ladle full of mush and a weak cup of coffee or tea or some other anemic simulacrum" (Elizabeth Norman,  We Band of Angels).

If you jump the queue, you "(1) push into a queue of people in order to be served or dealt with before your turn; (2) take unfair precedence over others. The US version of this expression is jump [or cutin line." (Judith Siefring,  The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2004)

Practice

Here are some exercises for additional practice:

  1. "At lunchtime, they all stood in the _____ at the bank, then they all bought a sandwich and came back to eat it at their desks." (Joe Moran, Queuing for Beginners. Profile, 2007)
  2. "The theater professor looked around the wings. He smiled at a man with blacked-out teeth in patched hat and baggy overalls who was entertaining stagehands with his antics as he waited for his _____ to go on." (Michael Malone, Foolscap, or the Stages of Love. Little, Brown, 1991)

Answers to Practice Exercises

  1. queue
  2. cue

 

 

Answers to Practice Exercises: Cue and Queue

(a) "At lunchtime, they all stood in the queue at the bank, then they all bought a sandwich and came back to eat it at their desks."
(Joe Moran, Queuing for Beginners. Profile, 2007)

(b) "The theater professor looked around the wings. He smiled at a man with blacked-out teeth in patched hat and baggy overalls who was entertaining stagehands with his antics as he waited for his cue to go on."
(Michael Malone, Foolscap, or the Stages of Love.

Little, Brown, 1991)

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs