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Leaving aside the regional dialect that might cause someone to say "on line" or "in line," isn't the line what establishes who the next customer is -- and so therefore redundant? Wouldn't a simple "May I help the next customer?" suffice?

I know line-forming is not something done in all cultures, but I'm fairly certain it is in most predominantly English-speaking ones. We form lines without being told or prompted. Even very small children can do this.

closed as primarily opinion-based by AmE speaker, Mitch, AndyT, Scott, Davo Sep 24 '18 at 12:01

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    In my area (US upper Midwest) it's very common to hear "Can I help the next in line". It's not always a line of customers (social services, tax office etc). – Jim Mack Sep 17 '18 at 21:26
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    It seems to me there is an implied assumption here that there is something wrong or bad about redundancy in language, which I take issue with. Just because something is redundant doesn't mean it adds no value to the discourse. Pleonastic constructions help reconstruct meaning when part of the message is lost or garbled. – nohat Sep 18 '18 at 1:23
  • Ok, I guess that's a downvoter...tough room! – Dave Kanter Sep 18 '18 at 18:36
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    (I didn't vote on your question either way) – nohat Sep 18 '18 at 20:59
  • The line only establishes "who is next" among the civilized customers. The clerk is being careful to address all of the customers. – AmI Sep 20 '18 at 22:13
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I'd say it is nearly redundant; and this is why I often see people just say "I can help the next customer" without adding "in line" (quite common in Canada).

I can think of at least one reason you might, though. By adding "in line" they are indicating to all customers that the line is functioning as the queuing system, and that this is how the next customer should be determined.

It fully establishes that the next person being served comes from the lineup of people, so it isn't acceptable for a random person to walk up and try to cut in. It is still basically redundant though, because most people are aware of the implicit "in line" after the phrase "I can help the next customer".

  • That's why I made the point about the fact that we all know even before we walk into the store that there's a established order. We don't just slam our carts and topple each other over to get to the cashier. – Dave Kanter Sep 17 '18 at 19:37
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    In the UK "Who's next, please?" is a common usage. – Kate Bunting Sep 18 '18 at 8:37

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