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What do you usually say, depending on the context and depending if it's US or UK English?

wait in line or queue

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  • 1
    Waiting line? Or wait in line? Either way, in BE we queue. Oct 2, 2012 at 11:55
  • Edited post with Roaring Fish and Mitch's recommendation Oct 2, 2012 at 12:12
  • 2
    But whether in the UK or the US, the branch of mathematics that deals with the question of how quickly things waiting in lines get to the front is called queueing theory and not *lining-up theory. Oct 2, 2012 at 12:34
  • There is a song "In the Waiting Line" by Zero 7, but they are British. So, I'd have to say that is a British expression.
    – David M
    Feb 17, 2014 at 20:41
  • David M, it's not. Considering that it is in a song, it is more likely that it was just a combination of words for that.
    – Tristan r
    Feb 17, 2014 at 22:13

7 Answers 7

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In the UK, people say queue. See this: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/queue_1?q=queue

That link also states "UK (US line)".

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In US English, the thing is:

a line

('waiting line' is not used).

To be on it is

to wait in line

To add to it is:

to get in line

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    In New York, I have heard a dialect variation: one waits "on line." The perception of the wait may be lessened if one surfs online while waiting on line.
    – rajah9
    Oct 2, 2012 at 16:36
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queue (UK) I never "wait in line". I always "queue".

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    And in the US, I "wait in line". It is just a "line" never called a "waiting line". Now I have heard of a "waiting room" and a "waiting list".
    – GEdgar
    Oct 2, 2012 at 12:08
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In the US it's always line. I haven't heard anyone say, waiting in queue or queued for food. The NOAD also marks it chiefly Brit.

That said, queue is pretty common when it comes to computers. And in some areas it may refer to a braid of hair worn at the back.

"Samurai shaved the tops of their heads and then gathered hair from the sides and back together into a queue. They applied oil to the queue before doubling it forward over the crown, then tying it at the point where it was doubled over."

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  • The hair thing is taken from French, where "queue" can mean either a plait (braid) of hair, or a tail (e.g. of a dog).
    – Suke
    Oct 2, 2012 at 12:50
  • Plenty of people say "queue for food." google.ca/…
    – Merk
    Oct 3, 2012 at 6:27
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    @Merk not in the US, AFAIK.
    – Noah
    Oct 3, 2012 at 6:43
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    I don't think I've come across the verb, but I do seem occasionally to hear queue as a noun used by AmE speakers lately. It's possible these are speakers with many BrE friends or something like that, but the word seems to me to be slowly creeping into AmE vocabulary. Feb 18, 2014 at 0:29
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Wait on line in New York City. Wait in line in the rest of the US.

Good discussion here

Supposedly, New Yorkers wait on line because of Ellis Island having had painted lines on the floors. New immigrants were told to wait "on the line." And, it has changed our local lexicon. (i.e. It is a shibboleth.)

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No one in the US ever really says queue. We say 'get on line', 'wait in line', 'don't cut the line', 'line up', 'what a long line!', 'make a line', 'form a line', etc. Queue is reserved for technical usage, such as in computer science where one might create a queue of objects. A LIFO queue (last in, first out), a FIFO queue (first in, first out) are common computer programming constructs. There is no right or wrong. Language is dynamic, ever-changing and tied to whatever is 'normal' for a given culture. What may sound correct to British ears sounds outright funny to American ears and vice-versa, but that's ok. It surely keeps things interesting!

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In an English school you will hear a teacher say 'line up!' as a command though. He will not say 'queue!' as a command.

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    Of course he won't, any more than he'll say, “Line!”. Because queue doesn't mean the same thing as line up. He's perfectly likely to say, “Queue up!”, however, if he's a Brit. Feb 18, 2014 at 0:26
  • He's not very likely to say "queue up", to be honest. @Rachel is correct that "queue" is rarely used in any imperative form, in British English -- "line up" would indeed be a much more common thing to hear. Or occasionally, "form a queue" or "form an orderly queue", in more formal circumstances.
    – calum_b
    Apr 25, 2016 at 19:48

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