We all know what "taxi" means to general public -- a car which carries you from A to B in exchange for your paying a fare.

"Taxi" also means to drive an aircraft on the ground. Why do we call it that? What's the reason & history behind the term?

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    $\begingroup$ You might get an answer on english.SE if no one here knows; they have a lot of etymology questions $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Sep 9, 2015 at 14:25

3 Answers 3


This online etymological site suggests that an airplane moves slowly across the field in a similar fashion to how a taxi-cab driver would slowly make his way down a block looking for fares, and the term is borrowed from that behavior.

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    $\begingroup$ The link to Dictionary.com also describes the use of taxi as "Shuttling back and forth between two points" - just like you would between runway and stand. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Sep 9, 2015 at 15:40

According to the OED, the word "taxi" derives from the word "taximeter," used in 1894 in The Times, which in turn is from "Taxameter-Fabrik" used in an 1890 German patent for a device to record distance driven for use by hire vehicles transporting passengers (relatively) short distances from point to point. (Wikipedia has a more detailed etymology.) Cabs (from "cabriolet") using this device were originally referred to in English as "taximeter cabs," which was soon enough shortened to "taxi-cab" and even "taxi."

Over the next few decades usage of the word "taxi" was expanded to encompass a great number of other meanings, mostly consistent with the idea of a "short trip" or "short-term hire" (e.g., "taxi dancer").

"Taxi" in the sense of "to travel slowly along the ground or water under the aircraft's own power" seems to have come into use around 1911-1915 in aircraft industry-specific publications. Without being able to talk to the writers who coined it it's not possible to definitively say why they chose this term, but it seems likely that it came from the various uses of "taxi" in the sense of a "short trip."


I'll throw a thought in the mix although the term most likely pre-dates this: When you are running a plane on the tarmac the "meter" is literally running since the engines are on. Much like the meter that starts running when you get in a taxi cab. There is no worse feeling than renting a plane for a nice day of flying and getting stuck in a departure line watching the Hobbs slowly tick on while you sit there hopelessly.

Interestingly the history of the word "taxi" as we use it for cars dates from the word taximeter the device installed in taxicabs to measure fare. Which comes from the french taxer-mètre. The evolution may come from the fact that the ground operations of the aircraft are part of the ticket which you paid for.

(Its a long shot but its worth a thought)

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    $\begingroup$ Although I don't think this is the answer, I up-voted it anyway cuz I can just imagine how that feels! $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Sep 9, 2015 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ Horray for fields with low traffic volume. :) I don't think I've ever had more than 1 airplane in front of me for takeoff at the field I'm normally flying from. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Sep 9, 2015 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ This seems to be purely speculative. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2016 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ This is purely speculative but anyone who has ever rented a plane knows this feeling, and its terrible. Taxing has been going on far longer than hobbs meters have been measuring engine time. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Aug 12, 2016 at 13:05

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