Taxi – Derivatives and Connotations

The word ‘taxi’ is derived as a short-form of two other words – ‘taximeter’ and ‘cabriolet’. Obviously, the derivative is ‘taxicab’ which was shortened to ‘taxi’. It’s interesting to note that the term ‘taximeter’ was first used in 1891 to indicate a device used to calculate fares and distances; in Latin, ‘taxa’ meant a charge or levy. ‘Cabriolet’ was used to refer to a carriage drawn by horses where the carriage driver occupied a position at the back.

However, around the same time, Germany adopted the name taxameter for a similar device, going back to the Greek term ‘taxe’ which also meant a charge or tariff. ‘Taxe a meter’, which meant “pay according to the meter” was approved for official usage in French by Cabriolet owners and shortened to ‘taxi’ from ‘taxe’. The British soon followed its usage.

The usage of the term ‘taxis’ in ancient Greek denoted ‘movement in response to a stimulus’ or a kind of innate behavioral response by an organism to the presence of light or food. Various forms of ‘taxis’ include tropism and kinesis, both of which indicate responses with or without directional change.

Difference between ‘taxi’ and ‘cab’

In general, both are vehicles of transport; ‘cab’ seems to be of older usage derived from ‘cabriolet’ which meant a horse-drawn carriage for public hiring such as the brougham or hansom. When these were upgraded as motorized vehicles with meters (taximeters) they began to be called taxi-cabs.

To delineate further, in the UK for instance, a taxi is often a vehicle for hire hailed by the roadside while a cab often refers to a vehicle that is pre-hired or booked in advance for travel.


‘Taxi’ also has different connotations to movement as in an aircraft taxiing or cruising slowly. This was a colloquial term that was first used in the early 20th century for a small passenger airplane that moved slowly on the ground before picking up speed for takeoff. An interesting slang usage of ‘taxi’ in American usage indicates a jail sentence of five to fifteen years or a relatively small prison sentence as an analogical reference to a short taxi ride.

In many local languages, taxi is often referred to by many other words that refer to vehicles of transport whether manual or motorized – rickshaw derived from the Japanese ‘jinrikisha’ a hand-pulled carriage, tuk-tuk or auto rickshaw, a motorized taxi, pedicab and boda boda. At the height of the racist movement in America, ‘jitney’ cab was the term used when referring to unlicensed or illegal cabs and plied mostly in African-American areas where legal cabs refused to ply.

Today, we know that a taxi means a cab, a black cab, a yellow cab, a hack, taxi buses and even limousines – simply, it means a vehicle for hire.

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