Today, the words taxi and cab are used interchangeably by people around the world. History has made the differences non-existent for most, but some do still perceive a difference between the two words.
Before cars, people used to get around by way of horse or horse drawn carriage. Cabriolets were a for-hire means of transportation, and they were a horse drawn carriage. Traditionally, it was a small two wheeled carriage with a roof to protect passengers from the elements and drawn by one horse. Some of the larger cabriolets had four wheels and could accommodate more people, but they were still drawn by one horse. People shortened the word from cabriolet to “cab” as a slang term, and it stuck. They were designed in France during the eighteenth century to replace the heavier and less mobile hackney carriages. Cabriolets quickly became the choice of transportation in Paris and London. They remained as the top for-hire means of transport for almost two hundred years until motorized vehicles replaced horse drawn carriages.
When people started using cars as for-hire transportation the term “cab” stuck. For-hire cars were outfitted with taximeters, which gauged how far a trip was. The word ‘taxi’ is a verb meaning to transport, and ‘meter’ means to measure. To differentiate between the old fashioned cabs and the new fashioned cabs people started calling cars for-hire taxicabs.
Taxicab is an outdated term, but it is still recognized around the world. When Americans started using taxicabs, they shortened the word to taxi or cab. In the U.S. the words ‘taxi’ and ‘cab’ are interchangeable meaning the same thing. Taxi is the most used term, but cab is just as recognizable.
In the U.K., taxi and cab are not always interchangeable and perceived differently. Depending on the location, people have different perceptions of what a taxi and a cab are. Forums online get fairly heated on the topic. Generally speaking, taxis are referring to as black taxis or black cabs. These are the iconic black cars of London. They are diesel powered with a high roof for passengers. Taxis can be hailed on the street. Their drivers are called ‘cabbies’. Cabs, generally, refer to minicabs, which are for-hire standard passenger vehicles. Cabs often require a phone call because they cannot be hailed on the side of the street like taxis. There is a blur between the two terms, but there are distinct differences in perception for U.K. citizens.
Taxi and cab seem like interchangeable words, and in many places are the world, they are. They were once part of the same word, and one existed before the other. History has a way of blending lines and making distinctions less clear especially linguistically. What was once horse powered is now fuel powered. People still have to get from place to place, so the need for for-hire transportation is no less important.