I can't find a definition of "cue in to" that explains the following sentences (from Google Books and dictionaries). The phrase, if it is an idiomatic phrase, seems to mean "pay attention to" or "listen to". But I just can't seem to find a fitting definition from a credible source.

It takes a trained and sensitive therapist to cue in to your personal needs.

Once this is understood, caregivers can be taught to cue in to the infant's social overload by introducing only one stimulus at a time.

The key to successful training at Level IV intensities is to cue in to the body's signals for lactate accumulation.

I also ask my listeners to cue in to certain specific areas which I have questions/concerns about.

"Cue in" is a different story, and it means "give signal to" or "fill someone in". Neither seems relevant to these sentences.

5 Answers 5


A 'cue' originally, is a 'sign or symbol for an actor to go on stage'.


It lets the actor know when to walk on. On TV or radio it might be a verbal or visual countdown. In movies it might be '3, 2, 1 and - action!

So it's a sign that lets everyone know what is going on, when.

If you 'cue someone in' then you are the one that 'counts them in' so you say: '3, 2, 1 and - action!'

This meaning of 'cue' has been broadened to include other kinds of 'cues' - or 'signs' that we get from the world around us - about 'what is going on - and when'.

For example:

Your dog, showing up with his lead in his mouth - is giving you a cue - for 'walkies'! Or, he is 'cuing you in' to the fact that it's 'walkies time!'

Your boss, sitting you down for a chat about how punctuality is important is subtly, 'cueing you in' to the fact that you'd better shape up - or you may risk losing your job.

So 'cues' these days, may be verbal, eg: 'please take a seat here, Miss Thomas' or 'non-verbal, such as from 'body language' eg: 'the way he shrugged his shoulders made me feel he didn't care'.

The examples you give are talking about the sensitivity we may have - or may not have - to such verbal and non-verbal 'cues'.

Where we are sensitive to others and to our environment - we can say we are 'cued in' - eg: 'my therapist cued in to me really easily - he understood what I meant, straight away'.

Where we are insensitive to others or to our environment - we can say we are 'not cued in' eg: Friend 'Mary just got the sack!' Other friend: 'Oh no! really? - well, she was not very cued in to her boss - he warned her several times about lateness, but she just didn't seem to 'get it!'

She 'missed her cue' - and now she is out of the movie.

The writing in the examples you give, is a bit 'jargony', if you don't mind me saying. 'Cue in to the infant's social overload' sounds a bit odd - I am guessing they mean 'respond to the level of social overload the child is feeling' (presumably, by not creating more (overload) for that child by ...adding only one stimulus at a time.

'Cue in to the body's signals' means: 'pay attention to...' signs from the body...

I ask my listeners to cue in to specific areas' means 'I ask my listeners to focus on or connect with specific areas...'

Another way of saying to 'cue into' is often 'to connect with' or 'to become aware of'. It might help to substitute those words, to understand what is (trying!) to be said.


Indeed, the expression "Cue in to" is idiomatic and means give information or understand something about a particular thing.

The 10th example on dictionary.com is the one you're looking for. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/cue--in

It takes a trained and sensitive therapist to cue in to your personal needs.

This means the knowledge a trained therapist has allows them to identify certain aspects of a patient to identify their needs.

Once this is understood, caregivers can be taught to cue in to the infant's social overload by introducing only one stimulus at a time.

"Cue in" in this case replaces identify in usage

The same sentence could be rewritten as "Once this is understood, caregivers can be taught to identify the infant's social overload by introducing one stimulus at a time.

In fact all four of these examples use cue in to to mean identify. I hope this helped.

  • 3
    Perhaps “identify" is a rough synonym, but I think the cue in to expression adds a certain measure of “become attuned to”. At the airport, for example, I wouldn’t say, “He cued in to the aircraft as a DC-10.” But I might say, “The passenger next to me cued in to the fact that our pilot was very experienced.”
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 11:05
  • @J.R., could it simply mean "understand the cue of... "? Like, "... to cue in to your personal needs": "...*to understand the cue of your personal needs* ".
    – dan
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 12:18
  • 1
    @J.R. Would you really say that though? While I feel like I've heard this before, and it seems immediately understandable, there's not much reference for this exact usage of the idiom. Could this be a cross between "cue me in" and "tune in to"? And OP was asking for a definitive source, which I could not find. I'm starting to question my sanity on this one, is it really an idiom or are we being tricked by how it sounds? Maybe this needs to be kicked over to english.stackexchange.com? Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 4:50
  • 1
    @CoolHandLouis As a native English speaker, helping people out on this forum makes me question my sanity because something either sounds right or is completely wrong. It is certainly interesting Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 19:27
  • 1
    Thanks, Riley, Noted and recorded for future use. I'm beginning to wonder the same thing as CooHandLouis - I know it, but is it a real idiom - or does it feel familiar because it is similar to something else. I found nothing online that used it exactly as we think it is used. Of course, a general search for "cue in to" is pretty useless, as the words are too common, and one gets way too many hits that use those words positioned in the same way, but in a different usage. BTW, another similar idiom is "clue in" - may be some derivation from that.
    – Mark G B
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 20:24

"Cue in to" is idiomatic, and it is derived from "cue in". One dictionary definition for "cue in" is "to tell someone what is going on". However, to "cue in" is an action one person takes with a second person (or persons) as the object, the receiver of the communication. In the case of "cue in to", the receiver of the communication (data) is making themselves receptive to communication that was not directly intended to "tell them what is going on". So, one could cue in to body language, or wolf family interaction, or the sounds an engine is making. In other words, one pays attention to those things that can tell one "what is going on".

It would seem a direct reference to this usage may not exist, but the Free Dictionary has something close. The "Free Dictionary" citing [The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs][2], gives this example:

  1. To give information or instructions to someone, such as a latecomer: I cued in my coworker about the items that we discussed at the beginning of the meeting. She cued me in to what happened in the first five minutes of the movie.

While this example still involves two people, it does confirm the use of "cue in to" as a transfer of information. The exact meaning desired is where the listener, or the person receiving the information, is also the one performing the action of "cueing in" The natural grammatical variant for a self-performed action of "cueing in" would be "cue in to" For instance, let's try this with the previous example.

I cued in my coworker . . .


I cued in to my coworker.

As you can see, the direction of the communication flow is changed.

[2]: The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

  • I agree with you, that's a good description of the idiom. But can you find a reference from a credible source to back this up? That's what OP is asking for. The etymology of the idiom might be due to a crossover from "tune in", as someone else mentioned. Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 4:33
  • @CoolHandLouis Point taken about the OP asking for a source. Finding a reference is tough - although I did look - I didn't find any with a quick search.
    – Mark G B
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 19:20
  • I just did a more detailed search, and a direct reference does not exist online, or I cannot find it. I checked a few dictionaries of idioms. However, I did find something close, which I have appended.
    – Mark G B
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 19:33
  • By the way, I myself am not particularly satisfied with my explanation. I certainly know the idiom, and feel it to be familiar, but I can find no reference resource which indicates its use. I am not keen on the idea that it may have arisen as a mixed idiomatic usage from "tune in". But neither am I confident that it arose as the proper grammatical way to use the idiom to match the self-performed action. I got to that through examining what the resources say, and the logic of the grammar to make the idiom work for the action.
    – Mark G B
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 20:16

To cue in to {something or someone} means to recognize the cues that something or someone is giving (intentionally) or giving off (unconsciously).

I've seen and heard the phrase used far more often as "get|become cued in to" which preserves the idea that something or someone else is giving the cues.

Compare clued in.

clued in refers to the resulting state when one has been given the "clues"(i.e. the info, the scoop, the skinny, the facts).

It is not idiomatic to say

He clued in to the situation.

Instead we would say:

He got clued in to the situation.

He was clued in to the situation.

We clued him in to the situation.


In Billiards/Snooker/Pool you use a cue or cue-stick to strike the white ball against a colour ball to pot-the-hole.

When lining-up or cueing-in the shot, you are putting yourself in a position to take an action, which in pool is to sink a ball.

When you, today, cue someone in, you are placing them within a position of understanding of a situation.

In the context provided cue in is used to emphasize the professionals abilities to analyze/remedy/research/heal/fix and provide a solution to the matter at hand.

Keeping in mind that to strike the white ball in pool or billiards or snooker you have to be placed in such a position that you can make sufficient contact to achieve the desired result. By extension, when a service/description attests that they cue in to it simply means that they have the experience to place themselves in a position to handle your issue in an efficient manner.

The term cue in is slang from pool halls and has filtered into common day speech.

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