Cabs 1

The word cab is short for "cabriolet", a two-wheeled carriage with a leather hood which originated in Paris in the mid-1700s. The cabriolet was so light that it was prone to violent bouncing; hence its name, which was derived from the French verb "cabrioler", meaning to caper like a goat.

The first person to operate these original cabs was Nicholas Sauvage, who had his headquarters at the sign of St. Fiacre in the Rue St. Martin. To this circumstance we owe the French word "fiacre" (meaning horse-drawn cab) and the tradition that St. Fiacre is the patron saint of cab drivers.

Cabs were introduced in England in 1823, where they began to compete with the larger, more cumbersome two-horse hackney coaches.

Several types of two-wheeled cabs were introduced, but the development of the Hansom cab in the 1830's drove all its rivals from the scene, with the exception of the four-wheeled "Clarence" or "Growler" which appeared at about the same time.


Campbell, Mrs. Patrick (Stella) (1865-1940)

Campbell, Mrs. Patrick 1

["Mrs. Pat", the grande dame of the English stage at the turn of the century, terrorized theatre managers and skirmished with George Bernard Shaw. Her biography does not mention a dog, much less one named "Moonbeam".]

A taxicab driver once demurred at transporting her and a disagreeable pooch named "Moonbeam", but she swept into the vehicle commanding, "The Empire Theatre, my man, and no nonsense." The dog, never housebroken, misbehaved en route, and the driver gave Mrs. Campbell a furious I-told-you-so look as she descended. "Don't blame Moonbeam," she informed him loftily. "I did it."

[The same story is told about Beatrice Lillie.]


Children 1

Our taxi driver was darting in and out of heavy traffic with complete abandon. After a few harrowing blocks, my friend leaned forward. "Would you please be careful? I have eight children at home," she said. To which the driver replied, "Lady! You're telling me to be careful?"

Children 2

You never know what your next trip may be when you drive a taxi. I answered a call one day and a lady came out of the house with three small children. The oldest looked about three and the youngest about nine months. The lady put them in the cab and said, "Pull the meter, please. I'll be back in a few minutes."

So I sat there waiting, and the children bawled and yelled. Fifteen minutes later their mother came back. "How much do I owe you?" she asked.

I asked her if she wasn't going anyplace. "No," she said. "But I had a long-distance phone call to make and needed peace and quiet. Here's the fare and thanks for waiting."

Children 3

A father and his five-year-old son are riding in a taxi down Rue St. Denis in Paris. The boy asks what all the women are waiting around for.

"They're waiting for their husbands," says the father glibly.

"No, no, kid," the taxi driver blurts out, "Those are hookers!"

"What's a hooker?" asks the little boy.

Dad is steamed at the driver for putting him on the spot, but he rallies valiantly. "Hookers are women who have a lot of husbands," he replies.

"But if they have a lot of husbands, they must have a lot of kids," persists the son. "What happens to the kids?"

"They grow up to be taxi drivers."

[Paraphrased from a French joke on this web site:]


Chivalry 1

It was late at night and the young lady was taking a taxi home. Checking in here handbag, she was mildly horrified to discover that she would not have enough money for the full fare. When the meter had reached the sum which she had, she called to the driver and told him to let her out, explaining the situation.

"Listen, lady," said he, "money isn't everything. There's still what you call chivalry. You just sit still."

Chivalry 2

Taxi drivers come in for a lot of criticism these days, much of it amply justified, but once in a while you hear a story that renews your faith in them. During a sudden downpour, for instance, last month, a bank official succeeded in bagging an empty taxi, and had scarcely embarked on his ride uptown when he spotted a frail little old lady, her umbrella blown inside out, waiting forlornly for a bus. Impulsively, he ordered the cab halted and insisted on taking the old lady to her door, though she lived a good two miles out of his way. When he finally reached his own home and took out his wallet, the taxi driver told him, "Please give me half of what the meter shows, mister. It would please me to go fifty-fifty on that old lady."

Choate, Joseph Hodges (1832-1917)

Choate, Joseph Hodges 1

[Choate was U.S. ambassador in London from 1899 to 1905. He always claimed this story was untrue:]

Visiting at a certain ducal residence, Choate happened to be standing near the front door when an English nobleman came into the hall and, mistaking him for the butler, said to him, "Call me a cab."

"You are a cab," Choate obligingly replied.

The nobleman complained to his host and was gently told that Choate was the American ambassador. At this the nobleman returned to Choate to apologize. Choate said, "Pray don't apologize. If I had known who you were, I would have called you a hansom cab."

Choate, Joseph Hodges 2

[Good stories refuse to die. Here's another version:]

When Mr. Choate was ambassador to the Court of St. James, he was present at a function where is plain evening dress contrasted sharply with the uniforms of the other men. At a late hour, an Austrian diplomat approached him, as he stood near the door, obviously taking him for a servant, and said:

"Call me a cab."

Choate answered affably:

"You're a cab, sir."

The diplomat indignantly went to the host and explained that a servant had insulted him. He pointed to Choate. Explanations ensued, and the diplomat was introduced to the American, to whom he apologized.

"That's all right," declared Choate, smiling. "If you had been better-looking, I'd have called you a hansom cab."

[This version (minus the reference to Choate) also appears in 1500 Anecdotes and Stories by James Schermerhorn (1928).] See also:

Benchley, Robert 1
Gilbert, William Schwenck 1

Churchill, Winston (1874-1965)

Churchill, Winston 1

[Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. On December 11, 1931, while visiting New York, he met with an accident:]

[Bernard] Baruch had invited him to dine that evening with mutual friends, but after climbing into the taxi Winston discovered that he could not remember the address of the mansion. The driver was of little help; he was new to Manhattan. They cruised around for an hour, Winston growing increasingly exasperated with the traffic lights, which were new to him; they had not yet been introduced in England. Finally he told the driver to let him out on the Central Park side of Fifth Avenue. He believed he could recognize the house from the sidewalk. Turning to cross the street, he made two mistakes. The light was against him, and he had forgotten that Americans drive on the right. He glanced in the other direction, saw nothing coming, and stepped off the curb. Immediately he was hit by a car driving over thirty miles an hour. Mauled, he was dragged several yards by the car, and then flung into the street.

[At Churchill's request his personal assistant, Prof. Frederick Lindemann, calculated the impact of the car as equivalent to "stopping ten-pound brick dropping six hundred feet or two charges buckshot pointblank range."]

Churchill, Winston 2

V-2 bombs were still bursting in London, and Winston Churchill was very much the prime minister, when he hailed a taxi in the Strand and asked to be driven to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

"Sorry, mister," said the cabbie. "Ye'll 'ave to get yourself another cab. Mr. Churchill is broadcastin' in thirty minutes and I wouldn't miss it for all the fares in London."

Churchill was so flattered that he pressed a pound note into the cabbie's hand. The latter looked at it in astonishment and came to a quick decision. "You're a bit of all right, sir," he exclaimed. "'Op in, and to 'ell with Mr. Churchill."

See also:

Attlee, Clement 1.
Smith, Alfred E. 1.


Clairvoyance 1

From the Union Station in Washington a man took a taxi to the offices of the Small Business Administration. A short while later he came out and found the same taxi waiting for him. He entered, and the driver started off immediately.

"But I haven't told you where I want to go," the passenger said.

"Senate Office Building," said the cabby.

"That's right, but how did you know?" asked the visitor.

"Well," the cabby explained, "whenever I take a fare to the Small Business Administration, I know that the first thing he'll want to do afterward is see his senator."

Cobb, Irvin S. (1876-1944)

Cobb, Irvin S. 1

As a correspondent during World War I, Cobb was sent to Belgium to cover the German invasion. Travelling to the Belgian army headquarters by taxi, he and his three colleagues were captured by the Germans and questioned. The interrogation lasted throughout the night and well into the next day, and Cobb's nervousness grew increasingly apparent. Finally he called out to the interrogating officer: "Sir, whether or not you intend to shoot us, will you at least grant us one request?" The German, a little surprised, asked, "What is that?" Replied Cobb: "Will you please tell the driver of our taxicab to stop the meter?"

Cody, William F. "Buffalo Bill" (1876-1917)

Cody, William F. "Buffalo Bill" 1

[Buffalo Bill took his famed Wild West Show to England in 1887 and experienced his first ride in a hansom cab. It is strange that he had never met with a hansom before, as they were quite common in New York and other large American cities.]

I was now, for the first time, introduced in its own habitat to that world-famed vehicle, the London hansom cab. In one of them I was whirled through the West End, past the famous Hyde Park, through Piccadilly, around Leicester and Trafalgar squares, to that central resort and theatrical hub of this vast community, the Strand. This narrow street, in its relation to the great city, reminded me of one of the contracted passes in the "Rockies," to which traffic had been naturally attracted, and usage had made a necessity. The density of its foot traffic, the thronging herd of omnibuses, the twisting, wriggling, shouting, whip-cracking cabbies, seemed like Broadway squeezed narrower, and I realized at once the utility and necessity of the two-wheeled curio in which I was whirled through the bewildering mingle of Strand traffic. With but one or two hub-bumps we were soon landed at the magnificent hotel Metropole, in Northumberland avenue, where I met many American gentlemen from different cities, who recognized me on sight and gave me hearty greeting.


Colour 1

Ho, for taxis green or blue,
Hi, for taxis red,
They roll along the Avenue
Like spools of colored thread!

Jack-o'-Lantern yellow,
Orange as the moon,
Greener than the greenest grass
Ever grew in June.
Gaily striped or checked in squares,
Wheels that twinkle bright,
Don't you think that taxis make
A very pleasant sight?
Taxis shiny in the rain,
Scudding through the snow,
Taxis flashing back the sun
Waiting in a row.

Ho, for taxis red and green,
Hi, for taxis blue.
I wouldn't be a private car
In sober black, would you?

Colour 2

"Look at those colors! The yellow of the butterfly -- the passionate purple of a tropical night -- the crimson of--"

Harry: "What is it, a rainbow?"

Larry: "Naw -- a taxicab."

Colour 3

[Charles Dickens describes what is perhaps the first "yellow cab" on record:]

There is a hackney-coach stand under the very window at which we are writing; there is only one coach on it now, but it is a fair specimen of the class of vehicles to which we have alluded -- a great, lumbering, square concern of a dingy yellow color (like a bilious brunette), with very small glasses, but very large frames; the panels are ornamented with a faded coat of arms, in shape something like a dissected bat, the axle-tree is red, and the majority of the wheels are green. The box is partially covered by an old greatcoat, with a multiplicity of capes, and some extraordinary-looking clothes; and the straw with which the canvas cushion is stuffed is sticking up in several places, as if in rivalry of the hay, which is peeping through the chinks in the boot. The horses, with drooping heads, and each with a mane and tail as scanty and straggling as those of a worn-out rocking-horse, are standing patiently on some damp straw, occasionally wincing, and rattling the harness; and, now and then, one of them lifts his mouth to the ear of his companion, as if he were saying, in a whisper, that he should like to assassinate the coachman. ["Hackney-coach Stands."]

Comic Almanack (1835-1853)

[The Comic Almanack was an English humour magazine published between 1835 and 1853.]

Comic Almanack 1


APRIL 14th. -- The Hackney Coaches of the Metropolis met at their usual resting time, which lasts from sixty minutes past twelve on Saturday night till sixty minutes before one on Sunday morning, and resolved to petition Parliament in favour of Sir Andrew's Sunday Bill. They complained that though on that day they always had more fare, they had no more food, for though they were never without the taste of a bit, they had no leisure to bite; and that though the weather might be ever so fine, for them it was always rein-y. They, however, did not wish to make exorbitant demands, and would be quite satisfied if Sunday, to others a day of joy, might be to them a day of "Wo." Earl Grey was asked to present the petition, and signified "yea" by saying "neigh."

Comic Almanack 2


For the benefit of our young readers, and, indeed, for the advantage of children of a larger growth, we subjoin a few games, adapted to the meanest capacities, and the most limited pecuniary resources. [...]


This is a very amusing game, and is very easily played at. Fix your eye on any particular cabman, and he will be sure to come off his stand as rapidly as he can, thinking that you intended to hail him.

The fun of the game may be increased by looking at three or four on the same stand, when they will all rush off the rank, and you have only to explain that you "merely looked, but don't want a cab;" upon which they will all very likely begin quarrelling with each other, and thus add materially to your amusement.

Comic Almanack 3


[...] To show the futility of expecting a correct return from houses we subjoin the following information, taken quite at random, from different individuals. [...]

CASE 2. -- Joseph Badger. -- I'm a cabman. I didn't sleep not in no house on that night: I haven't done for years. I took a party from Doory Lane, Julyun's, to Pentonwill; and afterwards nodded on my box a bit, just a wink, cos no cabs as never no call there. Then I took a gent as was a little overcome, and thought he was at Paddington, as far as the Edg'er Road, by St. Paul's and the Regency Circus; and then I went to the Great West'un, and dozed a bit again, inside, and set on my whip and broke it, just like anythink, as you might say. Next fare I got was a up-passenger from Exeter, and took him to the Piazzy Hotel, and then I got another wink in Bedford Street, and there I was still morning.


Conversation 1

A lady stepped into a taxicab at Grand Central. The driver swung out into traffic, and at the same time asked, "Do you want the radio, lady, or shall we just talk?"


Cowboys 1

A hard-driving taxi driver ignored a red signal, threatened a policeman's knees, missed the street island by a hair, and grazed a bus, all in one dash.

The policeman hailed him, then strolled over to the taxi, pulling a big handkerchief from his pocket en route.

"Listen, cowboy," he growled. "On the way back, I'll drop this and see if you can pick it up with your teeth."

Cowboys 2

Boulevard Cowboy. The "style of 'wild' taxicab driving that is common in Manhattan, New York, and on the South Side of Chicago." [Afro-American term used in the 1940's.]

Boulevard Westerner. "A reckless taxicab driver." [Afro-American term used in the 1940's.]

Cummings, Edward Estlin (1894-1962)

Cummings, Edward Estlin 1

[The U.S. poet and painter signed was known for the typographical tricks and eccentric punctuation that characterized his verse. He signed himself "e.e. cummings".]

Departing with Marion, his wife, from a fashionable New Year's Eve party, Cummings realized that he did not have enough money for the subway fare. They stepped into the elevator, which was already occupied by a portly gentleman. "Excuse me," said Cummings politely, placing his hat with a flourish at the man's feet, "would you care to step on my hat?" The man, somewhat taken aback but nevertheless impressed by Cummings' aristocratic demeanor, nodded assent. "I'm afraid it will cost you five dollars," added Cummings. The portly fellow stepped on the hat and paid his fee, enabling Cummings and his wife to travel home by taxi.

Cummings, Edward Estlin 2

[In Paris with Gilbert Seldes and John Dos Passos, Cummings took it into his head to urinate on a fiacre (horse-drawn cab):]

Cummings asked the gendarme why he was being arrested, and the gendarme replied, "For pissing on Paris." Cummings pointed out that he had merely pissed on a fiacre. "Le fiacre - - c'est Paris!" exclaimed the gendarme, and took him along -- Seldes and Dos Passos following.... Seldes overheard the colloquy between the arresting gendarme and the officer behind the desk:

"Un Americain qui pisse."

"Quoi -- encore un pisseur Americain?"

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Revised November 11, 1998