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In Michael Quinion's 'World Wide Words'* he has this to say:
"Whenever Holmes and Watson needed to rush off to some exotic location, such as Norwood or Leatherhead, their first action was frequently the same as modern men in a hurry - they called a cab.
These were horse-driven, of course: motorized ones didn't appear in any numbers in London until 1905.
"Cab" was a contraction of cabriolet, a light two-wheeled vehicle drawn by one horse that had
been around since the middle of the seventeenth century in France, but which had first appeared for hire in London in 1823 (and which were being called "cabs" by 1827 at the latest). The name shares an
origin with the ballet leap "cabriole"; both derive from French "cabrioler", to leap in the air like a goat, which was taken from Latin "caper", a goat, which is also the origin of our verb to leap about in a lively or playful way. The French called the carriage a "cabriole" because of its curious bouncy motion. Conan Doyle never uses the full term in the Sherlock Holmes stories, since by the time he was writing, near the end of the nineteenth century, "cabriolet" was rare. Its abbreviation had been generalized to refer to a number of vehicles, both two- and four-wheeled, that had in common that they were available for hire on the street."
... And as a further titbit did you know that under an archaic law which has never been repealed, a 'cab' driver is required to carry a bale of hay for the horse? Nowadays one assumes a spare can of fuel would be deemed adequate!
*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2011. All rights
reserved. The original article is at the Words website at http://www.worldwidewords.org
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