Cue or queue?

17 Feb

Cue and queue. I’ve been meaning to write about this one for ages, as I see it quite a lot, most frequently in popular culture and the media, in newspapers and magazines and personal communications like Facebook updates, Tweets and blog posts.

This is another of those homophone issues – i.e. the two words sound the same, so if you have only ever heard them, rather than having seen them written down, or particularly if you have only seen one of them written down, an assumption can be made about which spelling / word to use. I think I have seen each used incorrectly an equal number of times; is that your experience?

So, a cue (as well as being something used to play snooker and billiards, which I don’t think gets into this particular issue) was originally a signal to an actor or other performer to begin their speech or performance. This meaning has been extended to include anything that initiates or reminds one of the start of an action or speech. So an actor takes  his cue from the end of the previous actor’s speech, or their actions, while I might take my cue to speak from the person I’m speaking with pausing, or at a seminar, from the chair pointing to me, or a company might take its cue to deliver a new software application from the release of a hardware upgrade.  It’s all to do with getting some kind of indication that it’s time for some kind of action.

A queue is more, if you like, about INaction – as it is a line of people or vehicles, etc., waiting their turn to proceed or be attended to. The line of people at the bus stop or outside a gig, or the cars waiting to cross a level crossing while the gates are closed.

If you are hanging around waiting to buy a train ticket before the ticket office is opened, you might take your cue from the staff member opening their hatch to start a queue for tickets.

So: a cue initiates action, and a queue waits for it. Does that make sense?

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


Posted by on February 17, 2012 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


Tags: , , ,

5 responses to “Cue or queue?

  1. C

    February 17, 2012 at 11:23 am

    When you hear your cue, come here. If you’re in a queue wait quietly.


  2. Vikki (The View Outside)

    February 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Perfect sense 🙂 I know the difference, I just always have trouble spelling queue….so if I’m texting or on FaceBook I just write “Q” lol



    • Liz at Libro

      February 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      Thanks for your comment. You know the difference, and that’s the main thing. The spelling just repeats itself, though Q UE UE



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