It happens all the time. You are in line at the grocery store, Starbucks or anywhere cashiers are employed. Having finished a transaction, one will cheerily offer to help "the following customer."

I'm pretty sure that "the next customer" is the correct usage here, unless they call that following customer by name. Am I right?

  • What if they said "I can help the following customer: the next one in line"? – JeffSahol Aug 25 '11 at 1:20
  • I have to think that cashiers have been instructed by management to use "following". I can't believe that cashiers on their own would come up with such silliness. I've also heard "following guest" instead of "customer", which is even more convoluted. Does anyone know more about this? I'll be asking the following cashier I encounter who uses it about this. – user33193 Jan 4 '13 at 14:40

It’s a participle being used as an adjective (like “the walking dead” or “the setting sun”). It’s a little unusual, in that the phrase “next customer” is the common idiom in English, but I can’t see what could possibly be wrong about it.

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There's nothing wrong with it. In this case it's being used in the same context as "the following day" which is commonly interchanged with "the next day".

People line up and follow each other just the same as the days in a week. It makes sense to me!

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According to OneLook it means:

adj. going or proceeding or coming after in the same direction, e.g. "The crowd of following cars made the occasion seem like a parade"

So although it is not an incorrect word, perhaps it grates on one's nerves since it connotes the sense of people as objects flowing mindlessly toward the cashier, as if you have no choice but "to follow".

It reminds me of a scene in a movie once with a tour guide directing a group of tourists to follow her, saying: "We're walking... we're walking... we're stopping..." The language it correct, but it's funny because it makes the relationship between the tour guide and the group seem so mechanical and impersonal.

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  • But it's not a verb in this usage. I think it's just wrong! – Bklyn Aug 13 '10 at 0:11
  • right, that was a typo. as nohat pointed out, "following" is a participle being used as an adjective, corrected – Edward Tanguay Aug 13 '10 at 0:46
  • @Bklyn - As the purpose of language is to communicate, it is really only "wrong" if people don't understand what they mean. – T.E.D. Aug 24 '11 at 23:56

I would understand "I can help the following customer" to mean the customer that is following the customer that is already being helped. In this context, "following" simply means "immediately behind or after", synonymous with "next".

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I don't think it's grammatically incorrect, although it does sound awkward to many people, including me. One may say, for instance, "Yesterday has past, and today is the following day." Here is an implied, "The last customer" as in, "The last customer has gone, and now I may help the following customer." It sounds wrong because it sounds to many of us like the speaker is attempting sophistication unnecessarily.

I also think it's a NYC quirk, similar to the use of "on line" vs. "in line", as in, "We are standing on line waiting for the cashier." If you really want a full dose of NYC cashier regionalism, wait until you hear, "I can help the following customer on line." Not wrong, but very specifically NYC, and wide-spread.

Fundamentally, I think this is more of a class thing and than a grammar thing (IMHO). FYI, "on line" comes from the NYC public schools, where kids had to literally stand on a painted line. It bugs me a bit, but I'm choosing to get over it. I've not heard either of these used outside of NY. Curious to know if it happens elsewhere.

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