4

Or should I say "(...) once too often" or "(...) one time too many" instead? Or perhaps, "queuing twice for a cup of coffee is one queue too many?"

My issue with once too many is that it makes once sound like a countable noun; and with too often is that is this context it sounds more natural to ask "how many times (...)" than "how often did you queue?" But I surely like once after twice.

And yes, in some cafés you have to queue to pay, and then join another queue to get served.

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    Though the idea of having to queue twice for a cup of coffee sounds very unusual, it is possible (you get to the head of queue A and are told they're out of coffee, and you'll have to join queue B). I don't see that the alternative I suggested vastly changed the question, but I've rollbacked. // I'd certainly never use 'once too many'. Or 'once fewer'. 'Once too often' is idiomatic, but usually refers to habitual repeated events. I'd use ' ...one time too many'. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 28 '15 at 23:03
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    @Edwin In some cafés you queue to pay, and then join another queue to collect. – Jacinto Aug 28 '15 at 23:04
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    I would say it's twice too many. ( I can't stand coffee) – Jim Aug 29 '15 at 0:40
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    +1 for a very intriguing question. There simply seems to be no natural, mellifluent, logical way of saying this in English. A kind of lexico-syntactic gap, if you will. (And in some places, you may well have to queue three times to get a cup of coffee: once to order it, once to pay for it, and once to collect it. That’s a fairly common system in both stores and cafés in China, for instance.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 29 '15 at 7:01
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    @Jim Twice too many rather than too often? (Have a couple of espressos, tiny and black, and there'll be no turning back.) – Jacinto Aug 29 '15 at 16:29
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'once' in fact means 'one time', and may thus always be used interchangeably.

Ordinarily one would prefer 'once too often' or 'one too many'. Often refers to time, hence 'once', where as 'many' refers to counts (or numbers if you will), thus 'one too many'. However, in this case you may argue that 'many' is better suited to accompany queuing for a cup of coffee than 'often', where as 'once' and 'twice' definitely sound more poetic together in the context, than do 'one' and 'twice'.

Thus you would be fine to write it, as you have in the title:

Queuing twice for a cup of coffee is once too many.

This is exactly what poetic license is for.

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    It looks as though you anticipated my issues, which I was incorporating into the question only when you were posting your answer. – Jacinto Aug 29 '15 at 6:52
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Those are all ok, although I think I like your first choice best:

Queueing twice for a cup of coffee is once too many.

One time sounds a bit funny to use instead of once, although there are places where it can work.

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    When searching ngram occurences, its rather "one [time] too many [times]". – Graffito Aug 28 '15 at 23:00
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    @Graffito Mixing twice and one time too many breaks parallelism. You want twice and once to match up. – tchrist Aug 28 '15 at 23:11
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    Parallelism is a good argument, to be weighted by the large use of "one time too many". – Graffito Aug 28 '15 at 23:51
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    Alternatively, you could go to the other extreme: Queuing two times for a cup of coffee is one (time) too many. Still sounds a bit odd, though. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 29 '15 at 7:00

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