For most Americans, when we hear the word queue, a billiard game comes to mind, or the fear one may have missed a cue in the conversation. For those of us living on the plains who prefer line or braid, it’s good to reconnect with this queer little word and its even queerer spelling from across the pond.
1: a braid of hair usually worn hanging at the back of the head 2: a waiting line especially of persons or vehicles 3a: a sequence of messages or jobs held in temporary storage awaiting transmission or processing 3b: a data structure that consists of a list of records such that records are added at one end and removed from the other
As for the etymology, take my hand and I shall lead you through. Queue is from the Latin-derived, Old French word cue or coe meaning ‘tail’ and 12th-century slang for penis. Moving right along, the 14th century saw the meaning extended to the dangling wax seals of a letter and a medieval metaphor for a line of dancers. It was in literal use in the 16th century as the sometimes split tail of a lion frequently seen in heraldry (à la queue fourchée). Contemporary men’s braided ‘tails’ may find their parallel in fashionable 18th-century men’s wigs accented with queue extensions.
Originally spelled cue, coe, or even keue in Old French, the word only started being spelled queue in the 12th century. Remember, spelling was not fixed in those days. Though the spelling queuing is ascending in popularity and preferred even by my spellcheck, queueing, with its unique string of five vowels, is more common in academic research fields, e.g., Queueing Systems.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in reading about the letter Z and why Americans say /zee/, the amazing history of the word Hello, or what happens if a word ‘rebrackets’ over time!
Explore all the sight word activities available in Donald’s English Classroom! If you’re looking for worksheets, games, and flashcards, you’ll find a treasure trove of materials for your ESL classes!