[Ads-l] Verb - to taxi (as an airplane)

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 9 20:36:09 UTC 2019

I've written before about the origin of the verb, to taxi, for airplanes.

The earliest example of the verb I've seen is from the British aviation magazine, Flight, in 1911.

"But to the relief of everyone he manoeuvred cleverly, and landing near the railway embankment "taxied" the machine back to the hangars, smiling happily."
Flight, Volume 3, July 1, 1911, page 572.

The verb was apparently derived from the term, "taxi," used to refer to flightless (or nearly flightless) training aircraft, built heavier and with smaller wings.  That word dates to at least as early as 1909.

"There is a special aeroplane known as the 'taxi,' on which pupils are taught to fly.  Its power is low, and its plane [(wings)] so adjusted that it can only be got off the ground with a certain amount of difficulty."
The San Francisco Call, December 19, 1909, page 38.

A few years later, Bleriot manufactured a purpose-built training aircraft he called the Taxi-Pinguin (or Penguin).  You can find photos and descriptions of it online.  It was used to train American pilots in France in WWI, before America's entry into the war.

Although it seems clear that maneuvering the plane on the ground related to the earlier "taxi" flight trainers, it wasn't definitively clear as to what sort of allusion to taxi the name conveyed, cruising slowly like a taxi looking for a fare (as had been generally believed), or to getting a ride back to the hangar when a plane broke down, or to the fact that pilots took student-passengers on rides for a fee, like taxis giving customers a ride for a fare.  I tended to believe the last one, but there was little contemporary evidence one way or the other.

I recently ran across an early description of the flight schools in France that may shed some light on the question.  It may not be conclusive, but it strongly suggests (to my mind, at least) the image of giving passengers rides for a fee.

I posted an excerpt of the article in a new blog post if anyone is interested.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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