Taxis – derivatives and semantics

The word “taxi” is derived from two other words – “taximeter” and “cabriolet”. The derivative is obviously “Taxicab” which is shortened to “taxi”. It is interesting to note that the term “taximeter” was first used in 1891 to refer to a device used to calculate fares and distances; In Latin, “taxa” means toll or tax. The word “Cabriolet” was used to refer to a horse-drawn carriage in which the coachman occupied a position at the rear.

However, around the same time, Germany adopted the name tax meter for a similar device, referencing the Greek term “taxe” which also means to charge or tariff. “Taxe a meter,” meaning “pay by the meter,” was approved for official use in French by Cabriolet owners and shortened to “taxi” from “taxe.” The British soon followed suit.

The use of the term “taxis” in ancient Greek refers to “movement in response to a stimulus” or a type of innate behavioral response by an organism to the presence of light or food. Varieties of taxiing include orbital and kinetic, both of which refer to responses with or without a change in direction.

The difference between “taxi” and “cab”

Generally speaking, both are transport vehicles; “cab” of older use seems to derive from “cabriolet” meaning a horse-drawn cart for public employment such as browam or hansom. When they were upgraded as metered motor vehicles (taximeters), they began to be called taxis.

More specifically, in the United Kingdom for example, a taxi is often a vehicle for hire that is hailed at the side of the road while a cab often refers to a vehicle that has been previously hired or pre-booked for travel.


“Taxi” also has different connotations of movement as in plane taxiing or slow sailing. This was a slang term first used in the early 1900s for a small passenger plane that was moving slowly on the ground before picking up speed for take off. The interesting colloquial use of “taxi” in American usage refers to a sentence of five to fifteen years or a relatively small prison sentence as an analogue to a short taxi ride.

In many local languages, taxi is often referred to by several other words that refer to transportation vehicles whether manual or motorized – rickshaw derived from Japanese ‘jinrikisha’, hand-drawn rickshaw, tuk-tuk or rickshaw, motorized taxi, pedicab and boda boda. At the height of the racist movement in America, the “jitney” cab was the term used when referring to unlicensed or illegal taxis, prevalent mostly in African American areas where legal taxis refused to go.

Today, we know that taxi stands for taxi, black cab, yellow cab, taxi buses, even limousines – simply put, it means car for rent.

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