Where do the words cab, cabriolet (hansom, taxi) come from and What do they mean?

It would seem awkward to say, “Call a cabriolet,” rather than “Call a cab,” but cab is merely a contraction of cabriolet, just as taxicab is a doubled contraction of taximeter cabriolet further shortened to taxi.

The original cabriolet, or cabriole, as it was also called, was built in France in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

It was a light two-wheeled affair drawn by a single horse, and had a large hood, usually of leather, and a leather apron to protect the legs of the one or two passengers from the mud of the roads.

The springs which supported the body of the vehicle were probably designed for the heavier chaise of the period, for, in combination with the uneven roads of that day and the trotting of the horse, imparted through the shafts, the springs gave the light carriage an elastic bounding motion which reminded someone of the capering of a young goat.

In French, cabri means a kid, and cabriole describes its frolicsome leaps, both from the Latin caper, a goat. So cabriole, sometimes cabriolet, became the descriptive name of the vehicle.

In England, where the vehicle was introduced in the early years of the nineteenth century, its more common name, cabriolet, was shortened to cab within twenty-five years; cabriolet became obsolescent and was not revived until an automobile with a similar type of body received the name in the early twentieth century.

The hansom cab, or, in shortened form, hansom, which has all but disappeared from our streets, was so named for its inventor, Joseph Aloysius Hansom, who died in 1882.

The first appearance of this improved vehicle was in 1834; its twofold popularity came from its greater safety, provided by a low-hung body, and the privacy afforded to the passengers, for the driver’s seat was upon a dickey behind the cab.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

Leave a Comment