Obama and the end of the queue

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Over the past few days the British media (newspapers and BBC news programs) have been talking about a crucially linguistic argument that President Obama is being manipulated, and literally told what to say, by the UK prime minister's office. (Links seem superfluous: the Google News UK edition will give you thousands of references.) The evidence comes from a single choice of lexical item.

During the two working days Obama spent in Britain, the main news-generating event was a news conference in which he directly addressed the issue of whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave it. A key argument for those who believe in leaving the EU (the proponents of Brexit) has been that new trade agreements could readily be set up once the country was free from the shackles of EU membership. Specifically, a trade agreement could be readily set up with the USA. Not so fast, said Obama: the USA will continue its negotiating efforts aimed at setting up a trade agreement with the whole EU, and if the UK left that grouping (the largest single market in the world) it would "be in the back of the queue" if it applied to get a special UK/US trade agreement established.

The Brexit crew jumped on the use of the word queue. Americans talk about waiting in line, not waiting in a queue or queueing up. "The back of the queue" is characteristic British English, and no American would say any such thing, they insisted. Obama's remarks must have been prepared for him by British pro-EU politicians. Are the Brexiteers right?

The people who believe that what Obama said had been written for him by the UK prime minister and his EU-favoring cronies must presumably also believe that Obama was too dumb to translate his remarks from British English into American English before delivery. They describe him as "bullying" and "blackmailing" the UK into continuing membership in a political union of European states the like of which the USA would never consider for itself. (They seem to have missed the fact that the USA actually is a continent-spanning union of 50 separate states with their own governments and legislations and cultural orientations, and it has been doing rather well these past 200 years.)

I don't (of course) have a definitive answer to offer concerning whether Obama was coached into saying what he said, and I leave comments open below for your discussion. I will simply state that I am highly skeptical, and offer a very small amount of linguistic counterevidence. As a first check on whether Americans ever use the word queue, consider the following occurrences of the word in the Wall Street Journal 1987-1989 corpus (which is most of them; I have omitted a few repetitions and some couple of references to a company called Queue):

  1. [w7_001] By the time he was ready to buy futures, three other buyers had jumped ahead of him in brokers' queues.
  2. [w7_009] She has only 90 minutes to sign books for the privileged 250 who queued up before Caldor's closed off the line.
  3. [w7_011] Who or what is primarily to blame for the desolation, queues, and empty shops of the nation's towns and cities can be endlessly argued over: the abrupt exit of the colonial Portuguese in 1976 after a rule that denied blacks all but the most menial jobs?
  4. [w7_015] This endeavor, in fact, could provide Mr. Konen with his most enduring legacy: shorter queues at half time.
  5. [w7_035] Although poor, Turkey has none of the shortages and endless queues characteristic of developing nations.
  6. [w7_036] I asked an adult standing in the queue with a curly haired pre-teen wearing a blue jacket with Lewistown lettered across the back.
  7. [w7_044] Since the nation's resources are not in fact limitless, acid-rain lobbyists will have to take their place in the queue along with everyone else vying for resources.
  8. [w7_049] Trading in J.P. Morgan opened an hour late Tuesday morning because some big sellers had queued up to unload shares.
  9. [w7_065] This took an hour and 45 minutes, the first part of which involved standing in a long queue in front of a sign that read not "Foreigners" or "Nonresidents," but "Aliens."
  10. [w7_065] It was pleasant enough, until I noticed that I could look out above the arrival lobby through a glass wall and see the long queue in front of the "Aliens" sign again, which turned my attention back to Ms. Weaver.
  11. [w7_068] "We had to queue up a week's worth of inventory to make a run worthwhile."
  12. [w7_069] In fact, the price decontrol that was one of his first acts upon taking office in 1981 made such queues a thing of the past, regardless of supplier problems.
  13. [w7_092] But like any other system, it has queues all along the way."
  14. [w7_096] What customers do is get in the queue.
  15. [w7_097] The queue outside the passport office stretched longer than a block.
  16. [w7_108] "Queues before dawn," trumpeted the headline in the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti.
  17. [w7_109] And shoots his way out of the queue.
  18. [w7_109] He explains that in a market like that on Oct. 19, "You don't want to find yourself in a queue behind everybody else.
  19. [w7_118] "Everybody thinks, 'If only I can get first in the queue, I'll be all right.'
  20. [w8_002] The "extra" money pushes prices up, inflation accelerates, people are reluctant to work harder for higher pay, and the shop queues grow.
  21. [w8_012] Meanwhile, the Big Board's computers would sidetrack program trades into a separate queue, where the computer would try to match buy and sell program trades.
  22. [w8_024] Everywhere there are queues and turnstiles controlled by young people who smile a lot, even those toting rifles.
  23. [w8_032] "This is lots better than down south, where you have to stand in queues," he says.
  24. [w8_034] Several members of the Politburo have popped in for a look (without having to queue up).
  25. [w8_043] But bondholders rightly worry about releveraging that can set them back in the payment queue, says Kelly Dunne, head of First Boston Asset Management's junk-bond investments.
  26. [w8_047] The queue is still the most effective Soviet ad; a Russian will join a long line without a clue as to what is for sale at the other end.
  27. [w8_048] Gas Stations in Poland Are Swamped As Cars Queue Up for Unrationed Fuel
  28. [w8_053] The infamous Soviet queue would vanish, one story said, with the advent of computerized bar codes.
  29. [w8_053] They're doubling the number of service lines to shorten queues and offering children's plates to attract families.
  30. [w8_057] Cardiac-bypass queues grow and patients die before their turn; hip replacements and cataract operations join a growing list of corrections that are triaged, ostensibly because more serious operations must be performed, but in reality because the resources are being used to continue first-dollar insurance coverage for sniffles and splinters — and for asphalt laying in the constituencies of members of the government.
  31. [w8_057] The persuasive or well-connected manage to jump the queue.
  32. [w8_057] Of greater concern was investors' perception that the market mechanism itself didn't cope — telephones weren't answered, computer routing systems queued, program traders shut out smaller investors.
  33. [w8_068] It's a sheet-metal shed with a long queue out front.
  34. [w8_087] Mr. Robinson replies that any country holding out for a better deal could be told that if it doesn't cooperate now it will be put at the end of I2D2's queue.
  35. [w8_091] The chore can involve queueing for several hours at the embassy here or waiting two weeks for postal applications.
  36. [w8_097] But many remain unsold as Soviets wait in queues for better-quality imported footwear.
  37. [w8_100] For this he jumped a queue at Addenbrooke's, a prestigious teaching hospital in Cambridge, where some 5,000 British citizens are on the waiting list for various procedures.
  38. [w8_100] But sick Britons who aren't expected to die the next day queue.
  39. [w8_104] And rather than queue up with competitors to bid on assignments, big Japanese construction companies often initiate projects and help with the financing.
  40. [w8_124] Mr. Robinson replies that any country holding out for a better deal could be told that if it doesn't cooperate now it will be put at the end of I2D2's queue.
  41. [w8_140] And rather than queue up with competitors to bid on assignments, big Japanese construction companies often initiate projects and help with the financing.
  42. [w9_003] Characters complain ceaselessly about food queues, prices and corruption.
  43. [w9_004] They were frustrated by the longer queues at the cashier and the small coins given as change.
  44. [w9_009] Once secure in the long and slowly moving queue of cases headed for trial, a plaintiff will almost certainly be able to settle for a substantial sum.
  45. [w9_013] He estimates Shearson is involved in about $70 billion in announced merger deals that might close in the next two quarters, giving it the biggest "merger queue" on Wall Street.
  46. [w9_027] Some 60 tired Poles queue in the lobby of Super Sam, a big food market.
  47. [w9_034] He found, first, that there were queues of people waiting to fill federal jobs, and that most of those people were qualified.
  48. [w9_034] Third, the only way to eliminate the queues — and thereby establish the federal government as a cost-minimizing employer — would be to lower men's wages by 16% and women's wages by 42%.
  49. [w9_034] Thus, such an attempt to attract top-quality workers to federal careers would increase the already-long applicant queues and raise the cost of doing government.

You can decide whether this delivers a decisive knock on the head to the theory that Obama's casually delivered and spontaneous-sounding remarks had been written for him by Conservative politicians in London. What I think it establishes beyond doubt is that there can hardly be any educated Americans who don't know what a queue is.

My view is that Obama is sophisticated enough to make one or two lexical replacements when speaking in London. He might well have referred to trucks as lorries, if there had been any occasion to mention them.

And I think the most plausible theory about the opinion he delivered is not that he's a lame duck who for some reason agreed to be a sock puppet for the pro-EU forces in the British government, but that he sincerely believes it would be better for the world if the UK continued to be an EU member, rather than giving the world's economy something of a shock by exiting and going it alone, and that he sincerely does not believe a special UK/US trade agreement could be set up in anything less than five to ten years of difficult and uncertain negotiations.

One appropriate use of a lexical item that is commoner in British English than American English, uttered during an official visit to Britain, is not enough to convince me otherwise.


  1. Charles Antaki said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 6:20 am

    Just for the sake of (sadly all too easy) contradiction-spotting in a UK tabloid: it isn't too long ago that the Daily Mail issued the triumphant news that
    "Americans are learning to say queue".

    Good job Obama had been paying attention, otherwise he might, as apparently Americans did before enlightenment, have pronounced it 'kway-way' just at the wrong moment.

  2. Detritus Bafflegab said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 6:21 am

    Queue is very common in American English in the professional workplace. I believe it comes from the fact that in software we speak of queues for data, tasks, and so forth, and this use of the programmers has gone back into general business usage. So if you ask me to do something when I already have plenty to do, I will probably say that I will add it to my queue. If I am annoyed, I will point out that it is going into the back of the queue. Personally, I never think of lines of people when I say this, the analogy in the back of my mind is to a computer. I would be unlikely to use it for people in a line. I would guess this is where Obama gets this usage.

    (Comments for a Pullum post! The end is nigh!)

  3. Steve Reilly said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 6:23 am

    The Washington Post points out that Obama himself has used the word at least three times before:


  4. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 6:27 am

    I write a lot of speeches, mainly for US speakers and audiences, so I have to take care to eradicate BrE lexical and grammatical items. But I still tend to avoid them when the speaker is British, Irish or Australian, since I want the US audience to be thinking about the message rather than be momentarily sidetracked by an odd-sounding expression.

    Obama's speechwriters are sophisticated people. They will be well aware of some of the differences between AmE and BrE, and in this case will presumably have wanted to make the speech flow as easily to British ears as possible, and seem as little alien as possible.

    Also, there is a second option besides "lame duck who for some reason agreed to be a sock puppet for the pro-EU forces" and "sincerely believes it would be better for the world if the UK continued to be an EU member". That is, perhaps Obama thinks that the UK staying in Europe is the best outcome for the United States – which is after all the main angle the president is supposed to be considering.

  5. Ian Preston said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 6:52 am

    Is there any difference between the AmE and BrE frequencies of 'in the back of the line/queue' as against 'at the back of the line/queue'? (Different sources are not unequivocal about which Obama used but video of the news conference suggests to me that he says 'in'). I can't imagine myself choosing the former but I can't tell if that is my Britishness or personal idiosyncrasy.

  6. Carl said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 7:04 am

    In computer science, a "queue" is a fundamental data structure. As a result, American programmers are likely to speak about a "download queue" and what not in the interfaces they design, and this has been leaking into general American usage. I would say that at this point in American usage, a "queue" a first in, first out list of any sort, and a "line" is a specific kind of queue in which humans are physically arranged. It makes sense that Obama would prefer "queue" for a list of nations, since the use of "line" would be metaphorical, whereas "queue" is a plain description.

  7. Michael Rank said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 7:11 am

    The WSJ data is, whoops, are, interesting but could partly be because some of the journalists are British.

  8. Michael Watts said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 7:35 am

    It seems pretty plausible to me that remarks specifically made to Britain would be tailored to that audience, in so far as the speaker knew how. That was my immediate assumption on seeing the remark.

    It seems totally implausible that US (or anywhere else) trade negotiations are processed in chronological order of when the other party opened negotiations, rather than being ranked by how important the other party is.

  9. Michael Watts said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 7:38 am

    Ian Preston:

    AmE usage would be "at the back of the line". You can be in the line, but you can't be in the back of the line.

    You could be in back of the line, but to me that sounds like you're not in the line at all, just behind it.

  10. Ralph J Hickok said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 7:54 am

    I hear and use "queue" quite often. I think my own use of it is largely because of my programming experience, as Carl suggests above.

  11. SFrankel said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 8:04 am

    American here, and it seems perfectly natural to me to say "back of the queue" when referring to something specifically British. The queue is believed to be a peculiarly British institution.

  12. Ian Preston said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 8:17 am

    Michael Watts: What you say matches exactly how I'd use the phrase, which is why Obama's formulation struck me as odd. But he has used it before and I can't find him using the alternative. Google turns up plenty of uses of both 'in' and 'at' but casual perusal of the first few pages suggests that they are more likely to be from sites in the US. I know that proves little which is why I ask.

  13. bks said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 8:36 am

    Has Boris Johnson calculated the frequency of back of the queue in Kenyan English?

  14. Bob Ladd said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 8:55 am

    I definitely have the impression that queue became more familiar in AmEng with the spread of computer jargon. It's a bit hard for me to be sure because I moved to BrEng territory in the 1980s and of course it sounds completely normal to me now. But I still make an effort not to use conspicuously BrEng vocabulary (like pushchair or chemist) when I'm talking with uncorrupted AmEng speakers, and I don't think I'd worry about using queue in that situation. (At least, I wouldn't worry about using it as a noun; as a verb it seems more distinctly British.)

    I'm surprised no New Yorkers have joined the preposition discussion to point out that in New York you stand on line.

  15. Nelson said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 9:00 am

    On a slightly different note, this discussion seems to be spurring on the use of 'lame duck' to mean 'politician getting vaguely towards the end of their term'. In standard usage, Obama is absolutely not a lame duck president, and won't be until after the elections in November, but people on both sides of the ocean seem to have gotten an early start on using it to try to discredit anything Obama does or says already.

    [Absolutely right: he is not a lame duck, but a serving president with many months to go before the next election. But the Brexiteers are wrongly using the phrase (and others much ruder) to put him down. —GKP]

  16. Aaron said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 9:00 am

    "Queue" is also used quite a bit among Americans in online-game settings, since the games themselves often use that word to describe the activity of signing up for a match and waiting for one's turn to be called up to participate. "I can't right now, I'm in queue." "This queue is taking forever." "Queue the group for random, please." "Anyone want to re-queue after this?"

    I assume this is because, as was mentioned above, the games are created by programmers who are accustomed to using "queue" in the computer science sense.

  17. Michael Leddy said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 9:03 am

    Netflix's use of the word queue is pretty conspicuous (at least for people who watch movies the old-fashioned way, by getting DVDs in the mail).

    New Yorkers tend to wait on line.

  18. Michael Leddy said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 9:04 am

    Oops — I just saw that the article Charles Antaki mentions cites Netflix.

  19. D.O. said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 9:17 am

    Back of the queue is maybe (much) more British than American, but conspiracy theory seems to be equitably distributed.

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 9:39 am

    Pflaumbaum: Also, there is a second option besides "lame duck who for some reason agreed to be a sock puppet for the pro-EU forces" and "sincerely believes it would be better for the world if the UK continued to be an EU member".

    Actually, you introduced a third option. However, I agree with the rest of what you say. When I heard Obama's use of "queue", I thought it was "localisation".

  21. GH said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 10:02 am

    An interesting linguistic argument, but as a conspiracy theory this is pretty weak sauce. We know Obama has speech writers and advisors who help him prep remarks. If they should have consulted with their British counterparts to determine how to best make his case to the British public, what's the problem?

    Even if the president took input on the remarks from Cameron or his "cronies", it's quite a stretch to imagine that he would be reciting their script uncritically, acting as a mere mouthpiece for the pro-EU campaign: As if Obama, his administration, and the US government wouldn't have any position of their own on the matter (which underestimates the importance of EU-UK relations to the US), but would meekly go along with whatever Downing Street said (which greatly overestimates the power of the UK government to set American policy).

    As for "queue", it hadn't occurred to me that there was anything unusual (to American ears) about the "Netflix Queue" label. I don't think "Netflix List" would work; it would have to be something more specific like "Waiting List" or "To-Watch List".

  22. Stephen Hart said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 11:07 am

    Ben Yagoda has an entry for "queue" in his blog on Britishisms entering US usage:


  23. Guy said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 11:24 am

    Queue is totally common in the United States to describe any kind of system where a list of things is done in a certain order, typically managed by a take-a-number system or someone with a list. You just wouldn't usually call a group of people lined up to get something a queue, just like you wouldn't usually call the former types of things a line. That having been said, I think Obama may have intended a metaphorical use of "line" but it was localized to queue for a UK audience.

  24. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 11:42 am

    I remember hearing that British people said "queue" back in the 1980s and finding the usage odd. But it doesn't sound odd any more, partly because of the many things arising from the computer-science usage, and partly because the Internet has exposed me to people using British and other international forms of English on a daily basis to a much greater degree than I experienced back then.

  25. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 11:44 am

    …I believe Canadians sometimes call it a "line-up" rather than a line or a queue, and that still sounds faintly odd to me.

  26. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 11:45 am

    (To me, a lineup is a slate of performers or players, or a collection of suspects presented for identification by the police.)

  27. bratschegirl said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 12:03 pm

    I'm American. I would not use "queue" instead of "line" when in the States and/or speaking to other Americans, except ironically or in reference to Netflix (I'm aware of the tech usage, but that's not my field so I don't have occasion to use it that way myself). But having spent a good deal of time across the pond, I would definitely make the effort to use it when speaking to Brits and/or when in Britain, because "when in Rome…" Also, I am accustomed to saying, and hearing other Americans say, "at the end of the line" rather than "at the back" of the line.

  28. Sam Barnes said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

    "(They seem to have missed the fact that the USA actually is a continent-spanning union of 50 separate states with their own governments and legislations and cultural orientations, and it has been doing rather well these past 200 years.)"
    Pardon the tangent, but it's clear to me that the American and European unions are radically different, and the issue under discussion is precisely what differentiates them. It would be unthinkable for one of the 50 states today to decide, via referendum or otherwise, that it wished to leave the union. It simply wouldn't be allowed. The precedent for this was a war that caused some 600,000 deaths. I'd hardly consider the Europeans doing "rather well" if, to solidify their political union, they needed yet another continental war.

  29. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 3:32 pm

    @Jerry Friedman-

    The curse of LL comments strikes again.

  30. peterv said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 4:35 pm

    Sam Barnes: One has to wonder just how a union can be considered voluntary if its members cannot ever leave it. At least the European Union permits its members to leave.

  31. peterv said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 4:36 pm

    Sam Barnes: One has to wonder just how a union can be considered voluntary if its members cannot ever leave it. At least the European Union permits its members to leave.

  32. Zeppelin said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 5:25 pm

    Yeah, I really don't think the EU is a "union" in a way that's comparable to the United States.

    Like, Germany is a "union of separate states with their own governments and legislations and cultural orientations", and it's also a nation, same as the US. Germany and Austria aren't like California and Oregon, they're like the US and Canada. The European Union meanwhile is a fairly loose association of independent nations; it has no shared media or language or even a universal currency, or much of a unified political or cultural or religious tradition beyond that which it also shares with the US.

  33. Catanea said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 5:32 pm

    @Sam Barnes–Only yesterday I saw a news item pointing out that Texas regularly proposes (and votes down) motions for secession from the Union. The possibility exists. [& unlike the Spanish situation with Catalonia, I don't believe the rest of the US would consider military intervention to keep a state which wished to secede in the Union.]

  34. Idran said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 9:30 pm

    @Catanea: Just because Texas proposes such motions doesn't mean they're legal motions. The court case Texas v. White definitively declared unilateral secession unconstitutional and illegal, and any such motions for unilateral secession are therefore a priori invalid even if a state legislature actually did pass one.

  35. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 9:40 pm

    Google Ngrams shows "queue" rising in popularity in British English through the 20th century, with a notable peak during World War II; in American English, it occurs only at a low background level until the 1960s, when usage starts to increase rapidly. Most of that seems to be technical literature, but not all of it.

  36. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

    …And many of the earlier AmEng usages are referring to the hairstyle with a braided ponytail.

  37. Ray said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 10:54 pm

    obama the public speaker is famous for code-switching. maybe that's all this is? (or maybe too confounding to acknowledge?)

  38. AntC said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 12:39 am

    I'm persuaded by GKP's analysis.

    One of the gags when Obama was elected (after 8 years of Bushisms) was: It's so refreshing to have a U.S. President who is fluent in at least one language.

    Turns out Obama is fluent in at least two: AmE and BrE.

  39. RP said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 2:58 am

    "My view is that Obama is sophisticated enough to make one or two lexical replacements when speaking in London."

    If so, he is quite wrong. Brits are entirely aware of what "line" means and would have no trouble whatsoever understanding the phrase "back of the line".

  40. James Wimberley said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 7:07 am

    Queuing theory has also spilled over into economics. This may be the adoption path for the WSJ rather than, or in addition to, the IT one.

  41. Alyssa said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 8:29 am

    The theory that the increasing American usage of "queue" comes from programming jargon is interesting to me, because it implies that this *isn't* a case of a British-ism crossing the pond. If it's true, Americans don't get our usage of "queue" from the British at all. Rather, we get it from programmers, who make a distinction between "queue" and "line" that isn't part of common parlance in the UK. Perhaps Obama doesn't think of "queue" as a particularly British word at all.

    My personal theory for Obama's word choice here is that it's an attempt to soften what he's saying. Telling someone they're "at the back of the line" carries a connotation that you consider them to be unimportant. It could easily come across as insulting. Instead, Obama specifies that the negotiations would be at the back of the *queue* in order to emphasize that there is an ordering system that needs to be followed, and the listener is being placed last only due to others getting in line first.

  42. Bean said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 8:57 am

    Sometimes when you're somewhere else, the vocabulary just leaks over into your own speech. Then you surprise yourself by spontaneously using, e.g., queue, when your old self would have said line. And since it's speech you can't take it back or edit it out. You say Obama was in the UK for two days. It could have just been leakage.

    As for "line-up" in Canada, it's indeed a "thing" :P, some kind of mass noun, describes a phenomenon, a blob of people, but you can't stand in or on one: as soon as you join a line-up you would start talking about it as a line. I guess it's subtle and I never thought about it before. Examples. You can come around a corner at the movie theatre and say, "Oh damn, I never expected there to be a line-up!" Or "Did you see the line-up outside Best Buy when they were releasing the new XBox?" or "There's a two-hour line-up to get in!" But afterward you would say, "I was waiting in line for two hours today!"

  43. SamC said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 9:24 am

    For those commenting on "at the back of the line" and "in/in the back of the line" -both actually sound natural to me, though "in back" is more colloquial (AmE, late 20s).

    "It'll be a while – I'm at the back of the line."
    "Where are you?" "In back of the line"
    "Hey you – get in back of the line!"

  44. Flex said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 9:39 am

    More of an anecdote than data, but I recall coming across the word "queue" in British mysteries (Josephine Tey's The Man in the Queue) in the 1970's and (being young at the time), having to look up the word.

    Since then it has become one of my favorite words. Not only is it enjoyable to say, but also to write. How many 5-letter words only use 3 letters of the alphabet. Or how many 5-letter words have 4 vowels? How many 5-letter words can you write using only the top keys of a QWERTY keyboard?

    There is also precision in the word "queue" which "line" does not have. With a "queue" you know that there is a multiple of discrete entities which are going to processed sequentially. A "line" is just a comparison to the geometric shape, like a fishing line, or someone writing "a line" in cursive handwriting. Making a "queue" into a "line" is differential calculus performed on people.

    I've been pleased to see it being used more in AmE, which I've noticed it's been used with increasing frequency since the early 1990s.

  45. BZ said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 10:06 am

    Does the programming usage itself come from the UK somehow? The reason I ask is that I distinctly recall, in some sort of documentation, I think, for the UNIX command LPR (which sends documents to a printer queue to be printed in the order they were received), a joking aside that a command to similarly manage the physical queue at the printer has not been invented yet. I remember being puzzled for a second before working out that this was referring to a line of people waiting for their printouts. Then again, the writer may have been American using the term for the sake of the joke.

  46. andyb said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 1:16 pm

    "(They seem to have missed the fact that the USA actually is a continent-spanning union of 50 separate states with their own governments and legislations and cultural orientations, and it has been doing rather well these past 200 years.)"

    As others have pointed out, this isn't a very good analogy.

    However, they _also_ seem to have missed that one of the biggest areas of contention in the 2016 Presidential election is actually not that dissimilar to the Brexit controversy: NAFTA. The arguments against NAFTA by Trump and Sanders are pretty close to the libertarian and socialist/green arguments for Brexit, while the arguments by Clinton and Cruz are pretty close to those of the anti-Brexit Labour and Tory contingents. And, while Mexico may not be in quite the same kind of crisis as Spain and Greece, and may not be pulling the US down as directly as the UK's partners are pulling it down, the rhetoric is the same.

  47. andyb said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 1:31 pm

    A couple years ago, Obama showed an interviewer his Netflix queue. He's also talked about the shows he has queued up on his TiVo that he hadn't been able to get to. His wife has talked about her Spotify discovery queue. This is all perfectly mainstream US usage, at least among the class of Americans who have iPads and TiVos and subscription services. The menu items in Netflix and Spotify even say things like "Add to back of queue".

    So, I don't think he's even adapting to British usage; he's just using the word the same way he does in everyday life, expecting (correctly) that it will be understood by both Brits and Americans.

    If you were really looking for a reason to criticize Obama's wording, maybe you could argue that it implies that he's treating trade agreements like a playlist or an MMO construction order when he should be triaging them and working on them in parallel or something. But claiming that it implies that he's just reading a speech handed to him by the Tories without understanding it goes beyond ridiculous.

  48. jon livesey said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 3:37 pm

    I don't think that the colonists had much choice after 1776 except to create a union. Hang together or hang separately. Without the union, they risked being reconquered piecemeal by the UK.

    This dynamic does not exist in Europe today, and in any case it's not that clear that membership in the EU would add much to British security.

  49. andyb said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 6:07 pm

    @jon livesey: "This dynamic does not exist in Europe today, and in any case it's not that clear that membership in the EU would add much to British security."

    That's kind of a strange way to put things: the UK is _already_ a member of the EU, so of course membership in the EU isn't going to add anything.

    Also, the reason that dynamic doesn't exist is that the western Europeans joined NATO to avoid being conquered or subverted piecemeal by the USSR, so they didn't need the same thing from the EU, or any other more complete union. The EU (and its predecessor, the EEC) wasn't intended to provide that kind of security; it's about economics, trade, and mobility. Even when the EU created a Common Foreign and Security Policy, one of the cornerstones of that Policy is that NATO, not the EU, is responsible for the territorial defense of Europe.

  50. R. Fenwick said,

    April 26, 2016 @ 1:59 am

    How many 5-letter words only use 3 letters of the alphabet. Or how many 5-letter words have 4 vowels? How many 5-letter words can you write using only the top keys of a QWERTY keyboard?

    Each of those criteria is actually a little wider than you may think:

    1) onion, mummy, rotor, seers, tepee…
    2) aerie, aurae, audio, adieu, ouija…
    3) quite, write, trope, puree, worry…

    In fact, "eerie" matches all three of the criteria too. Though to be fair, it's also a lovely word!

  51. Adrian Bailey said,

    April 26, 2016 @ 5:10 am

    Nelson: I think "lameduckness" is leaking more and more into the pre-election period. For example, there is a widespread belief that Obama shouldn't be able to nominate a new Supreme Court judge even though Scalia died 9 months before the election. I also get the impression that Obama is somewhat demob-happy already.

  52. andyb said,

    April 26, 2016 @ 11:29 am

    @R. Fenwick: Since he asked "how many", I wrote a quick script and ran it against web2 (the list of 234936 words from the 1934 Webster's Second International Dictionary that comes with most *nix systems). Out of the 10230 5-letter words in the dictionary:

    1) 373 have exactly 3 unique letters, and another 13 contain exactly 2.
    2) 34 have 4 vowels (not counting "w" or "y" as vowels).
    3) 170 can be typed with the top row of a qwerty keyboard.

  53. Idran said,

    April 26, 2016 @ 5:34 pm

    @andyb: Are there any others besides his aforementioned "eerie" that match all three?

  54. andyb said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 11:44 am

    @Idran: Nope, at least in the 1934 dictionary, not counting y's, the only words in all three groups are "eerie" and the original "queue".

    @Adrian: The "widespread belief" that Obama shouldn't be able to nominate a replacement for Scalia is something the Republican leaders invented out of whole cloth when Scalia died unexpectedly, and it's only widespread among Fox News viewers and similar hardcore Republicans.

    More generally, redefining the lame duck period as earlier, or as more meaningful, isn't something that just naturally happens. In summer 2008, the Democrats started deliberately referring to what W could and couldn't do as a lame duck. Republicans and their media allies cried bloody murder. Rush Limbaugh notably claimed that calling the President a lame duck before the November election was slander and should be prosecuted. He also argued that W wouldn't be a lame duck even after November, because that term means someone who lost reelection like Carter, not someone who termed out like Reagan. Of course 8 years later, with a Democrat nearing the end of his second term and the Senate in Republican hands instead of vice-versa, it's the Republicans trying to stretch the lame duck definition even further, while the Democrats whine about it.

    Even more generally, trying to redefine the rules and traditions in a way that favors wherever their party happens to be at the moment is the same game every major party has been playing since at least Adams and Jefferson.

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