When do you cue, and when do you queue? Cue typically refers to a signal that encourages someone to take an action, while queue indicates an ordered line or file. Both cue and queue are pronounced like the letter Q, and are considered to be homophones. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings. Additionally, both cue and queue can be used either as nouns or as verbs.
In general, cue refers to a signal or a stimulus that results in an action. It can also be thought of as a hint, a suggestion, or an encouragement, as in this sentence from Jack London’s Call of the Wild: “It was as a cue to him, seeming to rouse him to do what he would never have dreamed of doing.”
Cue is also used in live theater, and refers to a sign given to actors to remind them to say or do something in particular onstage. The word has also carried over to film and TV, where actors are often supplied with cue cards to help them remember their lines.
In sports, cuealso refers to the stick used to hit the ball or puck in the games of pool, billiards, and shuffleboard.
The word queue, on the other hand, comes from the French word for tail and originally referred to a braid of hair worn straight down the neck. It’s used in British English to refer to forming a line. An example is this sentence from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling: “The marquee was nearly full now, and for the first time there was no queue outside.”
The word queue is also broadly used among video streaming services, where users can add movies and TV shows to their online queues, which are lists of what they want to watch in the future.
In general, queue can be used to refer to any lineup. For instance, a bride might ask the DJ that she hired to play music at her wedding reception to “queue the music” ahead of time, which refers to organizing the list of songs in a particular order. However, on the night of her wedding, that same bride might tell the DJ to “cue the music.” In this case, she would be asking him to start playing some tunes.