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CRACKING THE FULL TAXI CODE: Understanding a London taxi driver’s jargon

Updated: Jun 10

Image credit: DALL.E (AI Generated)

In the heart of London, where the black cabs are as iconic as the red buses and Buckingham Palace, the taxi trade has developed its own rich language. This unique lingo serves as a bridge between cabbies, creating a sense of camaraderie while streamlining communication. For those new to the trade or simply curious, here’s a glimpse into the most commonly used taxi terminology in the capital.

A Churchill refers to the right cabbies have to refuse a fare while eating, a privilege granted by Winston Churchill. This term underscores the respect given to meal breaks in the taxi trade. B&B, short for Badge & Bill, is a critical licence check ensuring that both drivers and their vehicles are compliant with regulations.

Berty Popped is heard when the Royal Albert Hall empties, signalling a potential surge in fares for cabbies. Meanwhile, the term Bill is used to refer to a taxi licence, a crucial document for any legitimate cab driver.

Beware the bilker, a passenger who bolts without paying their fare. On the flip side, Billy or Billies are simply customers, the lifeblood of any cabbie’s business. Broom involves passing a fare that one doesn’t want onto another driver, a common practice when a cabbie prefers a different type of fare.

A burst occurs when customers exit a venue en masse, creating a rush of potential fares. If you’re a butterboy, you’re new to the trade, having been on the road for less than three years. When a taxi rank is cabbed out, it’s full, leaving no room for additional cabs.

Cab Law refers to the unspoken rules that govern a cabbie’s professional behaviour, while CabUp brings modernity to the trade with updates shared via Twitter. A Clipboard Johnny is someone you’ll see outside venues, directing people to minicabs instead of traditional black taxis.

A copperbottom is a hardworking driver known for long hours behind the wheel. On the other hand, a dinosaur is a driver who eschews modern technology, preferring traditional methods and cash payments.

When a burst has dried up, the surge of potential fares has disappeared, leaving cabbies searching for the next opportunity. Droshky is an old-fashioned term for a taxi, harking back to the days of horse-drawn carriages.

FP, meaning Fixed Price, describes a pre-arranged fare for a journey. Hands Up is the traditional gesture used to hail a cab, while hanging up involves drivers parking with their lights off, choosing their next fare selectively.

A hairdrier refers to a police officer with a speed gun, a term used interchangeably with Kojac, named after the famous TV detective. Hickory is slang for a taxi meter, the device that tracks fare costs.

KOL stands for Knowledge of London, the rigorous test that all London cabbies must pass. If a customer legals or pays the exact fare with no tip, it’s called a legalled fare.

A musher is a driver who owns their vehicle, a notable distinction from those who rent or lease. On & Off describes the efficient process of dropping one fare and picking up another immediately. On Point denotes the prime position at the front of a taxi rank, a coveted spot for any cabbie.

Pax is a straightforward term for a passenger, while penguins refer to those dressed in black tie attire, often spotted after glamorous events. POB stands for Passenger On Board, indicating that a cab is occupied.

Putting on foul describes the act of over-ranking, or exceeding the number of cabs allowed in a taxi rank. A roader is a long-distance fare, usually more lucrative for drivers.

A scab is an illegal minicab, not licensed or regulated like traditional taxis. Sherbet or sherb is slang for a cab, derived from “sherbet dab,” a playful nod to Cockney rhyming slang. Showing Out describes customers trying to hail a cab, with arms outstretched.

A single pin is a single passenger, often less profitable compared to groups. Lastly, toes up refers to slowing down for police checks, ensuring compliance with regulations.

This glossary is just a snippet of the vibrant language used by London’s taxi trade. While many terms are specific to the capital, similar terms can be found in other cities, reflecting the unique cultures and practices of cabbies across the UK. Whether you’re a seasoned driver or a curious passenger, understanding this jargon can add a fascinating layer to your journeys through the city.


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