On this question, a swarm of Stack Overflow users and computer experts have talked about queries and queues, as if everyone knew what they meant. Specialized language is not the language of common folk, and this is true for university level mathematics and computer science jargon. Maybe very soon everyone will be familiar with these terms and how they are used, but what about today? It is a given that Americans will largely prefer: line, or line up over queue.
So, who can say for certain that the US President Obama's expression choice “in the back of the queue” did not refer to the UK being physically, or metaphorically, "at the end of a line/queue"?
Cambridge Dictionaries cites on the Business button
• UK (US line) a number of people who want to do or have something:
be at the front/back of the queue It's public-sector workers who are always at the back of the queue when pay rises are being handed out.
No one is denying that Americans "know" the term queue, but there is overwhelming evidence that suggest Americans will say ‘line’ over ‘queue’
Google results for line at the movie = 672,000
Results for waiting in line at the movie = 65,400
Results for waiting in line at the cinema = 32
Results for queue at the movie = 39
Results for queue at the movies = 33
Results for queue at the cinema = 14,500
Results for cinema queue = 6,060
Elsewhere on EL&U we have:
- In US English, the thing is: a line
To be on it is
to wait in line
To add to it is:
to get in line
- As badroit notes, queue is more common in British English whereas line is more common in American English in non-technical settings. @choster
Ergo Americans will prefer queue in technical situations. Likewise, computer scientists in anglophone countries will be familiar with its meaning of priority.
Wikipedia has a page dedicated to Queue (abstract data type). Emphasis in bold mine
In computer science, a queue (/ˈkjuː/ kew) is a particular kind of abstract data type or collection in which the entities in the collection are kept in order and the principal (or only) operations on the collection are the addition of entities to the rear terminal position, known as enqueue, and removal of entities from the front terminal position, known as dequeue. [...]
Queues provide services in computer science, transport, and operations research where various entities such as data, objects, persons, or events are stored and held to be processed later. In these contexts, the queue performs the function of a buffer.
Four days later ...
On the issue of whether President Obama was fed the expression (by his advisors or even by the British government) The Washington Post reports
Obama was simply repeating a warning made before by U.S. officials: that the U.S. is not interested in bilateral trade deals with individual countries, and that they would focus instead on deals with larger organizations like the E.U. However, the president's choice of words when making this point left many gobsmacked. The president of the United States had used the word "queue," typically used by Brits, rather than "line," considered the proper term in American English.
The first three twitter comments printed by the Post:
First time I've ever heard an American say queue.
Re Obama, no American I know, including those in UK uses word "queue", it's "line". Giveaway "back of the queue" is scripted line
- "Back of the queue"? Wouldn't that be "back of the line" for an American? Maybe No.10 dipped their quill into this speech...
Further on, the newspaper adds
Okay, it's certainly true that queue is used relatively rarely in American English: As the Oxford English Dictionary says in its listing for the word, it is a "chiefly British" word. But this isn't exactly a smoking gun. As James Ball of Buzzfeed UK was quick to point out on Twitter, Obama has actually used the word "queue" a number of times before.
It then lists three instances
- (2010) "There were several people who were still in the queue who didn’t have a chance to speak prior to us breaking."
- (2011) Could I just say that Chuck is the only guy who asked two questions — so far. So just — when I cut off here, whoever was next in the queue — I’m messing with you, Chuck."
- (2013) We’ve got to make sure that we have a legal immigration system that doesn’t cause people to sit in the queue for 5 years, 10 years, 15 years — in some cases, 20 years."
…in none of the above examples was the president being used to trick British people to not act in their own interest. In fact, Obama has something of a habit of using British English. According to Not One-Off Britishisms, a blog run by University of Delaware English professor Ben Yagoda with the aim of catching the British English that enters into American daily life, the president has also been caught saying things like "full stop," "run to ground" and "take a decision."
By Adam Taylor April 23