Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Taxi

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Taxi

Article excerpt

Old Quentin Letts was on the wireless the other day asking 'What's the point of the London black cab?' Between much shouting from my husband (a sign he is paying attention) I heard an old cabby explain that the word taxi came from its German inventor, whose name was Thurn und Taxis. Really!

There is no defeating this blunder, which is all over the internet. In reality taxi came into English from the French taximètre (1905), where the first element represents taxe , 'tariff'.

Taxis are hackney carriages. Autodidact cab-drivers cite an origin from Middle Dutch, in which an ambling horse was called hackeneie . But why did the Dutch call it that? In 1898, the Oxford English Dictionary was sure it had nothing to do with the place Hackney, but might be connected with the Spanish haca . Today, Hackney has fought back. The Royal Spanish Academy's dictionary declares that jaca , 'a horse no higher than a metre and a half', derives from Hackney 'famous for its horses'. Was it so famed? I wonder.

In London Labour and the London Poor (1851), Henry Mayhew charted the fall of the old hackney-carriage drivers, who had bought their vehicles from carriage-folk. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.