Sloane Crosley: 'Whether you say ‘queue’ or ‘line’, cutting one is both universal and instantly understood'

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Brits and Americans have hundreds of different phrases for the same thing. Luckily, it's usually a source of amusement rather than frustration. A flashlight by any other name is still a torch. My personal favourite is "fairy lights", which we boringly refer to as "Christmas lights".

The classic, and most regularly encountered, point of difference between British English and American English, is the concept of "queue" vs "line". And once that's been established, are you "in it" or "on it"? I have always referred to myself as waiting "in line" which apparently makes me un-American. I suppose neither is visually accurate. "On line" makes me feel like an elephant about to sit on one's fellow wait-ers. Then again, "in line" smacks of naughty puppeteering.

But you know what is universal and instantly understood on both sides of the planet? Cutting. At rush hour recently, I was waiting on line to purchase tickets at a train station. An animated English girl waited impatiently in the same queue behind me. After several minutes of dramatic foot-tapping and some supplementary sighing, she decided enough was enough.

She broke out of the line, approached a gentleman closer to the front of the line and explained that her train was set to depart in five minutes. Could she possibly cut in? Maybe it was the accent. Maybe it was the pleading face of an attractive girl. No matter what it was, the man allowed her to cut a line about 12 passengers deep. While one wants to, where possible, curtail one's spiralling decent into curmudgeonry, I think I may have let out an "Are you kidding me!?". It's very nice for that man that his train wasn't set to leave for another half hour – but it was at the expense of 10 other people.

Here's another phrase that should head round the world: tough luck, lady. I wish he'd used it. I got my ticket and bolted to make the train, the doors shutting at my heels. Sitting in front of me, free of heavy breath, was the girl. When it was time to exit the train, I made sure to shuffle swiftly past her to wait in/on the taxi line/queue.





Sloane Crosley is the author of 'How Did You Get This Number' (Portobello)

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