Join the Queue

Or, get in line, if you’re of an American persuasion.

Queue is an interesting word.

It’s got four vowels in a row, which is rare in English. And it’s not pronounced like a lot of other qu- words, with a kw- sound. And that’s because it comes from French.

In French, it’s pronounced similarly to English, like koo. Qu- in French normally just sounds like k-, so the -eu that follows the qu- is what gives it the oo sound. Then the final E is on the end because it’s a feminine word. So even if it looks strange from an English-language point of view, it makes sense in French.

Funnily enough though, queue doesn’t mean queue in French. Une file is French for queue. The French queue, in fact, means tail.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Queue entered into English in the 15th century, and originally referred to band attached to a letter with seals hanging from it, because it looked like a tail. Queue was actually used to refer to animal tails into the 16th century in English, specifically in heraldry. Occasionally, a queue will remind you of an animal’s tail, like when they snake back and forth, like in the post office. But do snakes have tails? Are they just a head and a lot of body?

Well, it turns out that snakes do have tails. Technically, the tail is the part of the body behind the cloaca (the reproduction/excretion opening), which means most snakes have quite short tails. If only all queues were so short.

5 thoughts on “Join the Queue

  1. > In French, it’s pronounced similarly to English, like koo.

    Does any English speaker pronounce it ‘koo’? As far I know, the only English pronunciation is ‘kyoo’, but maybe that’s what you mean by ‘similarly’. My students always had trouble with this, and also ‘quay’, which crops up quite a bit because Circular Quay is a tourist area and railway station. I remember first pronouncing it ‘kway’, and I’m a native English speaker!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I definitely meant similar in a general sense, in that “koo” is kind of like “kyoo.” We’ve got a pub here in Galway called The Quays, which is very popular with students in my school, who of course all call it “The Kways!”


  2. I don’t know about anywhere else, but in Canada it’s definitely “kyew” like the letter Q. We also pronounce “quay” like “key”. At any rate, queuing is very important in Canada–line butters are strictly frowned upon!

    Liked by 1 person

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