or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Still reading Jeffrey Steingarten's book, and it's still very enjoyable. Here are a few sentences from an essay called "Lining Up":

This is the only line I will wait on with a jolly sense of humor. (p. 170)

There will be approximately 15 people on line. (ibid.)

Why are all these people wasting their time standing on line? (p. 171)

I find this usage baffling, to say the least. When you're queued up for something, there's a line, and it's made of people, and clearly, you're in it, just as you're in a traffic jam or a mob. English phrasal verbs don't have to make literal sense, but "standing on line" sounds perversely, deliberately wrong.

Steingarten acknowledges this, too, on page 172:

I am reminded that while New Yorkers say "standing on line", the rest of the English-speaking world says "standing in line".

So it's not just me who finds it strange, then. Whew!

Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says "wait on line" is becoming more common, but only, evidently, because so many magazines are published in New York, and the usage doesn't seem to be spreading much, though "...'on line' is better known nationally than it used to be." According to the Columbia Guide to Standard English, "For now, 'to stand' or 'wait in line' is Standard. New Yorkers used to be the only Americans who spoke of 'waiting' or 'standing on line', and then other Americans began to pick up the locution...".

Well, I hope they let it drop again. I don't much care for it.


Blogger Frank said...

I HATE "on line." I live in South Jersey and we say "in line," which is what actually makes sense, but North Jersey, with its NYC influence, says "on line." It's one of the many reasons why North and South don't mix. *hehehehehehe*

Thursday, December 07, 2006 9:56:00 PM  

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