Standing in line or standing on line?

Here at collecting tokens, we ask the important questions.

Me, I say “stand in line.” Magpie points out that she says it differently:

In these parts, we stand ON line. :)

I live in New England, she lives in New York. These parts aren’t that far from those parts. But I think my “in line” version reveals my past life as a rolling stone. I always have trouble with the “where I’m from” question, seeing as I’ve lived in New England for over 20 years, but only ever lived in California for 12 years. But I guess my dialect is still more West Coast than East Coast. (You can take the girl out of California, but you can’t take California out of the girl.) I certainly haven’t developed a Massachusetts accent, though it’s possible that some of my vowels have shifted. (Do you say caught and cot with differently? I didn’t used to, but now I’m not so sure. It’s just possible that the occasional [ᴐ] pops up.)

Anyhow, back to the main point: in line or on line? Which do you say, and where are you from? (Or, do you queue?)

For that matter, if you say “stand on line,” do you also say things like “get on line” or “jump on line”? (And what about “Jump in the Line“?)

And while we’re on the topic of prepositions, I’m curious about another thing. I always say “graduate from X,” as in “I graduated from college.” But I hear other say “graduate college.” How about you?

(By the way, there are linguists out there who study this sort of variation, and it’s cool stuff. Check out, for instance, Bert Vaux‘s page of links on dialects, which includes a link to an article with the title “Standing on line at the bubbler with a hoagie in my hand.” Can’t go wrong with that.)

17 thoughts on “Standing in line or standing on line?

  1. Stand IN line, stand in single file, stand in a row… never ON.

    Though do you live in a particular street or on it? I used to say on, now I say in.

    At weekends or on weekends?

    Different to, different than, different from…?

    And I think it’s only the US that refers to University as College.

  2. I stand IN line, but I don’t stand ON ceremony. I have no idea why I make those distinctions, but I do.

    I graduated from college… just like you say it.

    I speak 90% midwestern dialect– with a hint of southern dialect & English dialect tossed in for good measure. We are where we lived and who we lived with, I guess.

  3. I stand in line. I’d never even head the phrase “stand on line” before. Neat.

    As for college, I use both phrases, though I think I more often drop the “from” than leave it in.

    And yes–as Azahar points out, only Americans refer to university as college. Here it Canada, if you tell someone you graduated from college, they’ll assume you mean a community college. If you’ve graduated from university, you’ll actually say university. (Myself, I’ve graduated from both.)

  4. I stand in line at the water fountain.

    Where I live people’s everyday speech is littered with snowboarder slang, which I believe originally derived from surfer slang. People still say “right on”!

  5. In line! On line doesn’t make sense to me, since you are physically IN a line of people, not ON a line of people. That would just be awkward.

    I live in Texas and was born in Alaska.

  6. I stand in line (on line is too much like online!), graduated from college (though sometimes I’ll say university), have fun on the weekend, and live on my street, unless I’m speaking Italian, in which case I live in my street. I’m deeply Californian, but have occasional hints of British vocabulary due to my nearly lifelong epistolary relationship with my British cousin. So for example, most of the time I wear trousers over my pants (pants=underpants in England), though I never add extraneous u’s to words like flavor and color.

  7. Hi Alejna —

    So… is standing ON line a New England thang? I’ve never heard it before — but, then, New England was a part of the US I only fleetingly visited in my time in the country!

    1. Oooo, I read too quickly. So standing ON line is a New York thang… hmmm, never noticed even though I did visit New York several times! :D

  8. I grew up in Upstate NY and we said “stand in line”. Although, that could be because both my parents were from PA – I never really noticed if my friends said it the same way. I graduated “from college” and things we liked were “wicked cool”. Now that I live in the South sometimes I mix dialects just for fun and confusion – as in “What are all y’all doing with those wicked cool speidies?”

  9. I am a graduate of my university, is how we say it here. We also say ‘wait in line’ , but ‘in’ not ‘on’. I love these variants to things. Makes life interesting, eh?

  10. It’s a NY area thing, and really grates on the ears. Just like “graduated college”, and “a coffee” (instead of “a cup of coffee”). My subjective opinion is it’s yiddish corruptions that became entrenched, but I can’t back that up with any etymological evidence.

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