The honourable trade of driving a licensed hackney carriage around London has its roots in a Charter granted by Oliver Cromwell in the 1650’s. The rigorous testing procedure all London cabbies must go through, called The Knowledge of London (or simply ‘the Knowledge’), started during the 1850’s.
It takes about three years to pass the ongoing assessments of ‘the Knowledge’ before a cabbie gets their Green Badge and can legally ‘ply for hire’. Not surprisingly, London cabbies have developed their own slang. What follows is most of what I know; it’s not definitive (and much is obsolete).
Key to terms: loc = location; misc = miscellaneous; mon = money; pass = passengers; pol = police; tax = taxis; trad = trade
The Admirals (loc) – Dolphin Square SW1. Each building is named after an Admiral.
All In (mon) – daily takings
All Nations (loc) – taxi drivers refreshment shelter (a Green Hut), Kensington Road SW7
American Workhouse (loc) – The Park Lane Hotel W1, popular with Americans
Appearance (trad) – Knowledge students verbal examination (one of many)
Badge (trad) – Green Badge an ‘All London’, or Yellow Badge a ‘Suburban’ driver must wear
The Baze (loc) – Bayswater Road W2
Bell & ‘orns (loc) – taxi drivers refreshment shelter (a Green Hut), Cromwell Gardens SW7
Billy Bunter (pass) – Punter (passenger), from cockney rhyming slang
Bilker (pass) – passenger that doesn’t pay (usually by running away)
Bill (trad) – taxi drivers licence/ID
A Binder (trad) – a very long wait on a rank (for the taxi driver)
The Bindi (loc) – The London Eye SE1 (taken from the Hindi, apparently)
Bishopsgate (loc) – The Athenaeum Club SW1 (formerly a high clerical membership)
Bloke (pass) – passenger (mid 19th century usage)
Blown Out (trad) – still sitting on the rank after the passenger queue has gone
Blue Book (trad) – a book of ‘Runs’ every Knowledge student must learn (merely the start)
Blue Trees (pol) – a policeman hiding whilst checking for speeding drivers
Bottle (mon) – £2, from cockney rhyming slang ‘bottle of glue’
Bowler Hat (pass) – City gent passenger
Broom (trad) – to refuse an unwanted job (technically illegal)
Buck House (loc) – Buckingham Palace
Bullseye (mon) – £50, from points scored on a darts board
Bunshop (loc) – a Lyons Corner House (popular restaurant chain, now all gone)
Butterboy (trad) – newly qualified taxi driver (origins much argued over)
Butterfly (trad) – a summer cab driver only (used during the days of horse & carriage)
Buzz Box (tax) – a noisy taxi
Cabology (trad) – Conversations carried out between taxi drivers, typically in a cab shelter or cafe. Involves many opinions being shared and aired. Topics could cover the state of the country (always ‘sorry’), football, politics, football, roadwork’s (always ‘diabolical’) etc.
C.A.B. (loc) – Pneumonic used by Knowledge boys (and girls) to learn the order of Chelsea, Albert and Battersea bridges.
Carpet (mon) – £3. This has two possible derivations. There are three feet to the yard which, pre-metrification, was the standard carpet measurement. Alternatively, in the days when prisoners were made to do certain work, three months was the time it took to make a carpet in the prison workshop (allegedly).
The Cage (tax) – The passenger area.
Call over (trad) – Method Knowledge boys (and girls) use to practice and memorise runs, routes and points.
Chopping Up (trad) – One driver over or under taking to steal another drivers job.
A Churchill (trad) – A meal. When he was Home Secretary, Winston Churchill gave cabbies the right to turn down a fare whilst eating.
The Circus (loc) – Piccadilly Circus.
Cock & Hen (pass) – Male and female passengers riding together.
The Cold Blow (loc) – The old St Pancras Station cab rank (pre-Eurostar). Windy? Not ‘arf.
Cole Porter (trad) – A cabbie who works long hours, right through the night and day.
Copperbottom (trad) – A cabbie who works long hours, solid.
Crawler (trad) – A cabbie who drives very slowly cruising for work. This epithet comes all the way down from the 1860’s, and yet nothing changes.
Cricket seats (tax) – The tip up seats in the passenger area.
Cruiser/Cruising (trad) – Driving around looking for work.
Droshky (tax) – Polish name for a taxi, introduced by the many Jewish cabbies working in the trade.
The Dead Zoo (loc) – The Natural History Museum.
Den of Thieves (loc) – The Stock Exchange.
The ‘Dilly (loc) – Piccadilly.
Dirty Dozen (loc) – A sequence of streets that cuts across Soho (see Duck & Dive).
Do Over (trad) – Stealing another cabbies job (naughty).
Do a Rank over (trad) – Jumping in at the front of an entire Rank (very naughty).
Dollar (mon) – Pre-decimal 5 shillings (25 pence).
Drop (mon) – A tip, as in ‘I loaded in all his luggage but the tight-wad didn’t even give me a drop’.
Duck & Dive (trad) – lots of back streets whilst running a fare (see Dirty Dozen).
The Eastern (loc) – Liverpool Street Station (the Great Eastern Hotel now of course has been ‘re-branded’).
Extras (mon) – Extra amount that the meter runs on Bank and National Holidays (or weekends or nights).
Flag Fall(mon) – The starting price shown on the meter – taxis used to have flags instead of hire lights.
Flyer(loc) – London Heathrow Airport.
Feeder(trad) – The bit that taxi drivers queue on before getting onto the official rank – on slow days.
Flounder(tax) – Flounder and Dab = Cab. Cockney rhyming slang as it were – from fishy origins.
The Flowerpot(loc) – Covent Garden Market (in ye oldene days, like up to the 1970’s).
Four Hander(pass) – Four passenger job.
Freight(misc) – Luggage.
Gaffs(loc) – Theatres – from an old name for a fair or place of entertainment (18C & 19C.)
Gaff Street(loc) – Shaftesbury Avenue – due to the preponderance of theatres.
Gantville Cowboy(trad) – A cabbie who lives near to or within the environs of LB Redbridge and the A12 corridor, eg. Gants Hill, Ilford, Newbury Park, Clayhall, Romford etc. Quite a few then.
The Gasworks(loc) – Houses of Parliament.
Green Badge(trad) – Name and colour of the badge a fully qualified London licensed taxi driver wears.