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The Queue Vs. Cue Conundrum

Let’s discuss Cue vs. Queue…

  • A cue is anything that serves as a trigger for a specific action.   

Cue the Meaning of “Queue”

While it may look intimidating as one of the relatively uncommon “Q” words followed by an unusual construction of repeated “ue” vowels, the pronunciation is pretty simple: you say this word exactly how you would say the letter “Q” itself. 

Arriving in English through French, the word has two primary meanings: a noun and a verb form. 

The Noun Form of Queue

As a noun, the word means a line of people (or sometimes non-people such as computer documents) waiting for a turn to do a particular thing. 

For instance: 

The queue for the women’s restroom at the Louvre became so large that it climbed the stairs and disappeared around the corner. 

This event happened quickly, and the line was so long that desperate women began using the men’s restroom as well, which had no line but did have some possibly surprised individuals within at the time. 

The point is that there were many people in this situation waiting for their turn to do a particular action: use the museum facilities. 

I wanted to ride the Extreme Ultimate Death Machine roller coaster at the state fair, but the queue was too long.

While queues can be short, they are most inconvenient when the number of people in the queue becomes substantial. In this case, the speaker/writer decided that waiting in a long line was not the best use of time. 

Shirley tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for the copy machine’s queue to clear; her print-off was 7th in the order. 

In this situation, you have a queue, but rather than being populated by people, it consists of documents awaiting their turn for printing. 

There is another noun form of the word queue. However, its use is very specialized as it is a specific hairstyle made popular in the 1600s in Manchuria that involved shaving the front part of the scalp while maintaining the back in a long braid. 

Later, it became a mandatory style for the men of Qing China.

The Verb Form of Queue

The verb form of the word is the act of joining a queue. For instance, if our roller coaster hero had chosen differently: 

The long line didn’t enthuse me at the Extreme Ultimate Death Roller Coaster, but I queued up anyway.

Notice that when used as a verb, you may need to use queued or queuing as appropriate for proper subject-verb agreement. 

As her daughter was queuing up for the bouncy house, Ingrid reminded her to take off her shoes. 

The Meaning of Cue

Cue has an entirely different meaning from its homonym counterpart. When you want to let a person know that they can do something at a specific time, you can give them a cue

cue is a sign, gesture, sound, or some other stimulus to encourage an action to begin or provide a clue or hint to serve as guidance. 

The gunshot cued start the race; as soon as the sound echoed through the air, the runners sprang into motion. 

A rather traditional cue for starting a race, a designated person would fire a pistol into the air to inform the runners the race had officially begun. Other similar signals include someone lowering a flag, a stoplight cycling to green, or simply a person yelling “Go!”

When the primary student was spelling body parts, the teacher tapped her eyebrow to cue that he had forgotten one. 

While this usage may also stimulate action, in this case, the primary purpose is to remind the student non-verbally that he forgot to spell the word “eyebrow” when working through his oral spelling task. 

When the actor finished his monologue, Kagan turned to Emera and told her, “That’s your cue!”

You can infer that these actors are performing or practicing a play, and the end of this monologue indicates that Emera needs to play her role next.

The newscaster read the lines on the cue cards smoothly and with proper inflection as she addressed the camera. 

This adjective form of the word describes the off-camera act of holding up signs for a TV personality that showed the script. In many cases, technology has replaced cue cards with a teleprompter, which is automated and serves the same purpose.  

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By James Smith

Described as an "English Guru," James Smith holds a Master's degree in English from Arkansas Tech University, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a minor in ESL. James is a sought after writer and editor with university teaching experience.

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