Cabbie Phrasebook

appearances – the series of tests that knowledge boys & girls undertake to pass “the knowledge”.  On entering the examiners office, he will firstly scare the shite out of you, then ask a series of point to point questions.  You then take him (verbally) from one to the other, road by road, the shortest route you can think of.  You then get graded and (hopefully) score 3-6 points depending on your performance.  You have to get to 12 points to progress to the next level.

“Be Lucky” Cabbies are supposed to say that to each other at every opportunity, but don’t say it to your cabbie he’s likely to take you for a complete tosser.

bilker – non-payer, someone doing a runner.  Fingers crossed, still to have one of these.

blue book run – on starting the knowledge, all new starters are given the blue book.  A series of 320 routes (known as runs) that broadly cover the routes within the 6 mile radius that gets tested. These are the framework that all other knowledge is added to.  First route in the blue book is Manor House Station to Gibson Sq, a route that will always remain in any cabbies (fond?) memories.

butter boy – new to the trade.  No-one seems to know when you stop being a butter boy.  Thought to come from Jewish drivers description of new boys as “but a boy”.  Or, from the influx of drivers after World War I from the grocery trade!

brushing – when on point, a driver refuses a fare (normally because it is too small a journey) and the punter has to go to the next cab in line. Most commonly done (IMHO) at Victoria when after waiting patiently in line a driver gets on point, only to hear the dreaded – “Victoria coach station please”.

Dirty Dozen Twelve roads through Soho that gets you from Regent Street to Charing Cross Road without having to sit behind several thousand double decker buses on Oxford Street.

Droshky This isn’t some obscure Russian poet, but the Jewish name for their cab. The word derives from two- or four-wheeled public carriages used in Russia and means literally droga, pole of a wagon.

flyer – a type of roader, but to Heathrow or, extremely rarely, Gatwick. Often signalled to a cab driver by hotel doormen with their arms outstretched to the side.

the gas works – Houses of Parliament.

The Iron Lung A bloody useful toilet in Horseferry Road SW1 (it looks like the old Parisian ones of the Sixties).

Kipper Season The time of year when business is a bit slack, supposedly from when cabbies could only afford to eat kippers instead of steak (nowadays we retire to our Tuscan villas and wait until the American tourists return).

Legal The fare on the meter without a tip. You wouldn’t do that to a poor hard working honest bloke would ya?

Musher An owner driver, as opposed to a driver who rents his cab (one day I’ll find out where the word comes from).

On the Cotton The shortest distance between two points is a straight line (or at least it would be if you didn’t have to drive round bloody buildings and parks to get to your destination). To see whether the route you took is shortest you hold a piece of cotton over the map between your start and finish points. If the route you took is close to the straight line, it’s described as being “on the cotton”.

on point – at the front of a rank, next in line to get a punter.

point of interest – knowledge term for anywhere that an examiner may ask you to take him to or from.  Can be as obscure as the Burton Tailor Mosaic (literally a mosaic on a wall in E14 marking where a factory used to stand). or as obvious as the Houses of Parliament (aka the Gas Works).

point to point – another knowledge term, this is the practice routes that knowledge boys & girls must do to get ready for appearances.  For example, Burton Tailor Mosaic, E14 to the Houses of Parliament.

PCO – Public Carriage Office, based in Penton St, N1.  Formally run by the Met Police, now come under Transport for London.  They administer the whole cab trade, including knowledge stuff.

Putting on foul Nothing to do with dressing up like a chicken, but joining a taxi rank that’s already full.

the rat run – the rank at Waterloo.

roader – good distance job out to the suburbs. Sometimes turned down by drivers if it is likely to take them too far out of town at rush hour.

Thanks to my blogging colleague at Cabbie for his contributions (in italics).

Got a bit of cabbie jargon to share?  Email me here;


14 thoughts on “Cabbie Phrasebook

  1. I’ve been a london cabby for 16yrs, me and my mates say the phase, on the bounce or bouncing when we get another job straight away, and yes its becoming rare for that to happen.

    Be lucky……

  2. For your information:
    An old term for “cab” in Sweden is “droska” – a bit like the Jewish term you mention. Must be a Russian word originally.

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  4. Great blog, great snaps, really enjoy it all……

    One thing, your “brushing” is usually known as “brooming” (or “brooming off”) in my experience, and the PCO is often called “the Yard”….. and what about that old favourite “sherbet” (for cab) …..err, that’s enough of this nonsense for one day!

    Be lucky (!)


  5. The Book Of Dave is not about cabbies, it’s about a cabbie. But then it’s not really about a cabbie to tell the truth. It’s a bit more complicated than that. I would refer you to A Canticle for Leibowitz by W.M Miller and Russell Hoben’s Riddley Walker. Riddley Walker is brilliant. Unfortunately it’s got nothing to do with cabbies. More to do with post apocalyptic Kent, aka the khazi of England.

  6. Now my brother’s a cabbie (Bristol) and he has a couple of gems you might like to add here (along the lines of what not to say to a cab driver – might fall into same category as the ‘be lucky’ entry)…
    In order of my preference (related to the level of annoyance I can engender when ringing him at work):
    1) Been busy tonight?
    2) What time do you knock off? (apparently that’s a question one cabbie can ask another but no-one else is allowed to ask?)
    3) Have you seen that Peter Kay sketch about cabbies etc…?

    Also, on another note, have you read Will Self’s ‘The book of Dave’?

    Hope all well in the big smoke


    • Ah yes, the good old “standard” punter questions to kick start the conversation. Other fav in London is “How long did it take you to ‘get’ the knowledge?” or “I hear that knowledge thing is well hard to do”. Good old general public.

      I haven’t read ‘the book of dave’ but really should, I like Will Self and have read a couple of his others. I’m just worried it might wind me up a bit.

      Hope all is well out in the sticks.

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