Worldwide icon-chevron-right Europe icon-chevron-right United Kingdom icon-chevron-right England icon-chevron-right London icon-chevron-right A guide to London cabbie slang
News / City Life

A guide to London cabbie slang

DncnH
Flickr / DncnH
Blogger and cabbie Robert Lordan offers a quick guide to the lingo you might overhear the next time you hail a cab...
 

Robert Lordan

Taxi drivers call January the ‘Kipper Season’, ‘cos it’s the time of year when folks are broke and work levels fall flat (although another school of thought speculates the fishy moniker relates to the fact that kippers make a cheap meal when times are tough). Here are some more examples of London cabbie slang to listen out for: 

Robert Lordan

Appearance

This is one of the many one-to-one verbal exams that aspiring cabbies must undergo while studying ‘the Knowledge of London’ (the gruelling training process required to become a black taxi driver that the Conservatives want to scrap). Personally, I had to sit 27 appearances – and they were all terrifying.

Robert Lordan

Bilker

This is a naughty passenger who doesn’t pay their fare. A few spin an elaborate sob story, some vanish into anonymous buildings never to be seen again, while others are simply content to hot-foot it.

Robert Lordan

Be lucky

This is a common expression used when cabbies part company with each other. It’s an apt phrase too – luck plays a big part in our game (see ‘Roader’). 

Robert Lordan

The burst

The moment audiences exit a venue en-masse and pour into the streets, with programmes and screwed up packets of Revels in hand as they seek a ride home is 'the burst'. London’s main burst occurs just after 10pm when the West End theatre shows draw to a close.

Robert Lordan

Butter boy/girl

A taxi driver who is new to the job having recently passed the Knowledge (see 'appearance'), is known as a Butter boy or girl. There are numerous theories as to where the term originates, but the most popular one suggests older cabbies used to accuse the keen new entrants of pinching their ‘bread and butter’ work.

Robert Lordan

Flyer

A 'flyer' is a job to the airport – which usually involves battling through traffic with a knee jangling, anxious clock watcher.

Robert Lordan

The gas works

This is the Houses of Parliament. Read into that what you will... 

Robert Lordan

Kojak with a Kodak

In other words, a policeman brandishing a speed gun. If they’re being particularly sneaky about it the KWAK in question can also be dubbed a ‘blue tree’. 

Robert Lordan

Leather arse

If you're a cabbie working exceptionally long hours, you're a 'leather arse'. In the Kipper season, the time spent behind the wheel turns most of us into leather arses (although I tend to find my knee joints suffer more than my derriere). Also known as a ‘copper bottom’. 

Robert Lordan

Little apples grow quickly please

This is a handy mnemonic for remembering the order of theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue – Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud, Queens and Palace. There are a few other of these little phrases, but I can’t be giving all of our tricks away now, can I? 

Robert Lordan

Musher

Nothing to do with cuddly huskies, sadly. This term refers to a cabbie who owns their own taxi. Drivers on the other hand who opt to rent their ‘sherbet’ (see below) from a garage are known as ‘Journeymen’. 

Robert Lordan

Oranges and lemons

These are London’s main roads – so called because they’re coloured orange and yellow on the A-Z map. 

Robert Lordan

The pipe

Otherwise known as the Blackwall Tunnel. Often clogged, of course. 

Robert Lordan

Roader

A long journey, usually out towards the suburbs and beyond. Once or twice in their career, a driver will snag a golden roader that can later be used as an ace when playing cabbie Top Trumps. My best roader? Now that would be telling… but it wasn’t too far from Alan Partridge’s home town.

Robert Lordan

Sherbet

Slang for cab. It derives from the Cockney rhyming term, ‘sherbet dab’ (the sugary tooth-dissolving treat that you chow down with a lollipop). 

Robert Lordan

Station nicknames

London’s main line terminals have all manner of handles. Some are pretty obvious – 'The Loo’ for Waterloo, 'Padders' for Paddington, ’The Bone’ for Marylebone (where, if there’s work, we say there’s ‘meat on the bone’). Some are more obscure, though, like ‘Royal Lobster’. Answers on a postcard if you can work that one out.

For more cabbie insider knowledge, read five types of perfect cab passengers in London.

Advertising
Advertising

Comments

4 comments
Rachels A

Fun and interesting blog Robert.

Give me a black cab anytime, at the very least you know your in safe and knowledgeable hands, unlike Uber drivers who even with a sat nav don't know where they're going and rip off customers at every opportunity.

Robert L

Thanks for the comment, Peter. That's not really a slang word though, it's the name of a multi-billion dollar multi-national.

Peter M

One slang word from me to add - uber - it is when you pay less, your driver is not moody/grumpy, no cyclists get injured, there is no pissing in the bottle, no problems with paying by credit card and no job is too small.

Martin P

Uber that is slang for multi national company using cheap immigrant labour to ferry around cheapscape passengers in unsafe uninsured no idea where there going car with dodgy immigration status and no criminal record check while making poor immigrant work 100 hours a week !