Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Dec 18 12:07:29 UTC 2010

Interesting--I would have expected a New York reference for the
earliest, as virtually all others through 1970 involve NYC. First
NYTimes mention is Nov. 23, 1964. There are several hits for New York
Magazine in 1970 (March 30 and June 22). Of 28 hits between these in
GNA, 26 are from NYTimes (Chicago Tribune and LATimes cites from 1969).

But I did find a few more points of interest. Among other things I found
an apparently forgotten 1969 American Speech article on truck-driver
jargon along with its 1955 and 1942 predecessors. Along with other
interesting finds ("Jewish overdrive"?), there is an entry for "gypsy".
A direct definition is not given, instead redirecting to "broker". But
if you check "broker", it's an independent owner/operator of a rig or
rig-trailer setup, who rents out his services. That looks remarkably
like the definition of a gypsy cab. So the real question is, what came

HDAS1 has the same "gypsy" as the second definition with citations from
1953 and 1960. There is also a horse-racing term as the first
definition, implying a small-scale stable owner who owns and races his
own horses. This one goes back to 1939 and 1949 cites.

Here's another hint. The Commercial Car Driver (1938) article I
mentioned earlier (under tailgating) also has an entry for "gypsy".
There are actually 3 installments of a trucking glossary in the CCD and
this is from the third one. It would be nice to recover all three in full.
> GYPSY--Truck from out of town bearing freight for delivery in a city
> and having no terminal in said city.

This is still a related, but not quite the same meaning. An identical
definition shows up in the 1942 American Speech article on "Truck Driver
Lingo". This is all fine, but the usage in running text is not the same
as the definitions in glossaries.

Searching GB for "gypsy truck" gets a bunch of hits supposedly from the
1950s, and this one:
Power Wagon: The Motor Truck Journal. February 1948. p. 25 [The issue
and page number are visible in the snippet!]
> WY Blanning, Director of the ICC Bureau of Motor Carriers, addressed
> the meeting and deplored the large number of traffic accidents which,
> in his opinion, are being caused by about 200000 "gypsy" truck
> operators through the employmentof overtired drivers and
> under-inspected vehicles.

The piece goes on to describe what a "gypsy" operator is, but the
snippet does not show the entire passage.
[Also , but snippet not visible in this one.]
[Quarterly journal] Proceedings of the Florida Academy of Sciences,
Volume 5 [?]. 1940-41 [Year is unclear, but the range appears to be
p. 244 [?]
> The gypsy truck is to the highways what the tramp steamer is to the
> seven seas, an independent contract carrier who may carry anything
> anywhere, anytime. Frequently he owns his truck, or is making payments
> on it, and lives in it more than anywhere else in particular.
Senate journal. Legislative Assembly, Kansas. 1939
p. 215
> By Senator Waggener: Senate petition No. 593, in relation to Senate
> bill No. 85 regulating the gypsy truck peddlers. Signed by EH Dotson
> and twenty others.

Kansas is not the only one that regulated gypsy trucks--Nebraska appears
to have passed the Gypsy Truck Act in 1941 as well.

So the roots of "gypsy cabs" go back at least to the 1930s, even if the
particular expression did not exist--but even the latter is debatable
(see below). Note that the distinction between gypsy cab fleets and
regular hackney fleets was not so much one of license as one of
"medallion", or registration. It is only in 1969 that New York issued
stricter regulations, preventing gypsy cabs from using /any/ yellow
paint to identify themselves. Prior to that, several companies used
partial yellow coloring to identify themselves, including the hero of
the New York Mag June 1970 story and the Gypsy Car Corp. It is only in
the 1970s that gypsy cabs became "unlicensed" rather than merely

This is not the final word, however. Instead of looking for "gypsy cab",
I switched to "gyp cab" and these appear much earlier!
Man of the World: Recollections of an Irreverent Reporter. By Donald
Henderson Clarke. NY: 1951
p. 183
> "Your ride ends here, you son-of-a-bitch."
> So I hit--so hard he fell onto the street. I would not have been in
> his gyp cab, and I would not have let him drive me past the correct
> turn, and I would not have hit him, had I not been drinking.
Thurber Country: A New Collection of Pieces About Males and Females,
Mainly of Our Own Species. James Thurber. NY: 1953
p. 76
> It turned out that we were in a gyp cab and that the gallant gentleman
> who had offered to share his taxi was, in reality, a burglar.

Thurber (Secret Life of Walter Mitty), of course, lived in New York, so,
presumably, this text is also about New York. Clarke's book was
published by Vanguard Press--the publishing arm of the Garland Fund.
Wiki has an article on the publisher, but not on the author, although
several of his book were also published by Vanguard in the late 1920s
and early 1930s.

"Gyp truck" also gets some attention, even earlier.
Power wagon. Volumes 62-63. [actual volume/issue/page unknown] 1939? [or
1940--dates verified in GB but not on paper, but also see vols. 80-81
above for 1948]
> The FTC wants to know WHY fruit and produce from out of the state are
> being refused just because they come by truck instead of by rail.
> Excuse cited by the offending terminals is "Gyp" trucksters with
> inferior goods in jallopy trucks.
St. Lawrence Waterway: hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee
on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Seventy-second Congress,
second session, on S. Res. 278, a resolution authorizing the Committee
on Foreign Relations to make an investigation and to hold hearings
respecting matters touching the St. Lawrence Waterways Treaty, Volume 1.
1932 [The date appears to be accurate, although not verified on paper]
> The tramp boat bears the same relation to well-established steamboat
> lines as the gyp truck does to the well-established motor bus lines.

Note that this is very similar to the line from the Florida Academy of
Sciences from 1940. So there is a parallel line of operations: tramp
boat/steamer -- gypsy/gyp truck -- gypsy/gyp cab. And these are actually
more similar than various glossary definitions would have you believe.
And gypsy trucks and gypsy cabs sometimes appear just as "gypsy", making
them harder to track. But that also indicates a close relation between
the two. Given the evidence here, it appears that "gypsy cab" evolved
from "gypsy truck" and the latter might have been related to the term
listed in HDAS concerning horses. But none of this should be considered


PS: I downloaded pdfs of all three American Speech articles from JSTORE,
so if anyone wants to see them, just ask.

Here are the citations:

Truck Drivers' Jargon. Author(s): John F. Runcie; Source: American
Speech, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Autumn, 1969), pp. 200-209

Truck Drivers' Language. Author(s): Marshall W. Frazier; Source:
American Speech, Vol. 30, No. 2 (May, 1955), pp. 91-94

Truck Driver Lingo. Author(s): Bernard H. Porter; Source: American
Speech, Vol. 17, No. 2, Part 1 (Apr., 1942), pp. 102-105

On 12/15/2010 2:32 PM, Mullins, Bill AMRDEC wrote:
> Gypsy Cab -- not in OED, HDAS has 1975
> _Boston Globe_ Jan 7, 1962 p 62 col 5
> "But the Hackney Bureau has its hands full with the gypsies."  Farther
> down the column:
> "Just the other night, three persons boarded a gypsy cab at Logan and
> waited until all passengers had left the terminal before departing."

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