What five-letter word can be shortened to only one letter but still be pronounced correctly? The answer, of course, is queue (pronounced kyoo). It appeared in print as early as 1592 as a heraldic term for the tail of a beast, coming from the Old French coue, which in turn came from the Latin cauda, meaning “tail.” By 1748 queue had acquired a second definition: a long plait of hair hanging down from the back of the head, so called because of its resemblance to the tail of an animal (and now known as a pigtail). In 1837 the English writer Thomas Carlyle used the word the way we use it today: to describe a number of people lined up at a ticket office or checkout counter, presumably because the lineup resembles the shape of an animal’s tail.

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