The Language of Standing in Line

people in lineStanding is line is such a drag. According to WikiAnswers (so it must be true), most people will spend two to three years out of their lives standing in lines at school, the bank, post office, grocery store, DMV, department store, movie theater, sporting events and more.

I find that downright depressing.

You see, I donít have a lot of patience for standing around waiting for my turn. To help ease the irritation of being in a queue, I usually bring something to read or I check my email on my phone or I send a text or listen to a voice mail or ó well, you get the picture. Today, however, I was waiting for a teller at my bank and I found myself with nothing to read ó and Iíd left my phone in the car. So, I got to thinking about queues and later did some searching online.

You probably didnít know, but there is actually a monthly journal, Queueing Systems: Theory and Applications, dedicated to the psychology and trends of standing in line. There is even a whole lexicon of line language.

For instance, faffing is the time delay when a person gathers up his or her things after paying at checkout. Faffing time averages 3.17 seconds, except in New York City where everything moves faster and with more purpose.

Reneging is the term used when someone leaves a queue because too much time has already been spent and he or she is on the verge of screaming. Not that this has ever happened to me, but Iíve heard about it. Funny thing is that if the line behind you is a lot longer than the line in front of you, then you are much less likely to renege because you know your wait time will legs and feet in linebe so much shorter than the poor guy at the end. And, you will probably be even less likely to renege if there is a television to distract you or if you have a smartphone.

The balking index is a queue math equation predicting when someone will opt not to join a line because it looks just too damn long. And, if the line circles around rather than going in a straight queue, people are more apt to balk.

Then there is the notorious line jockey, who views queues as his or her personal game, jumping from one parallel line to the next in a futile attempt to get ahead.

However, jockeying seldom works because as we all know as soon as you change lines, the God of Queues (and donít kid yourself there is one) will invariably stall that line before you can mutter ĎFreakin faffing, Iím gonna renege any minute, but I should have just followed my instinct and balked right away.í

So the next time you find yourself in a queue you will know all the right terminology. Yeah, the waiting will still suck, but just remember to bring your phone and know that the people at the front of the line are faffing as fast as they can.


Nancy Wurtzel writes about making big changes at midlife in her blog Dating Dementia. Read about Nancy’s often humorous and sometimes twisted journey as a baby boomer, single woman, empty nester, feminist and caregiver.

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