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Amdavad News

28 Oct 2020

The mysteries of Indian roads – Origins of the phrase 'Horn Ok Please'

If you have travelled in India your experiences will be as diverse as it gets owing to the sheer variety that this enigmatic land has to offer. However, almost every single individual who has set forth to explore India has one thing in common – they (we) have all come across a linguistic mystery like no other. The reference here is to the phrase “Horn OK Please” that seems to adorn the highly artistic and ornamental back-sides/rears of trucks in India. By now, you have defined some sort of a reason or intent or meaning behind the phrase. But do you know what it means and why truckers put so much effort into making it look as aesthetically pleasing as possible? Here’s what we found when we decided to explore this riddle of the Indian roads: A Historical Necessity The OK in the phrase “Horn OK Please” is the true source of the enigma, especially since it does not fit grammatically into the phrase. The theory behind the use of the phrase “OK” dates back to the Second World War when trucks utilized kerosene as a fuel source due to the shortage of diesel during this time. The theory is that this phrase was intended to warn drivers to keep their distance to ensure that safe distance was maintained, especially owing to the highly inflammable liquid in the bowels of the truck. A Medium of Communication Another interesting theory is that there once used to be a light bulb on top of the OK which was used as a signalling device. During the times when most highways in India consisted of one lane, the phrase advised drivers behind trucks to honk to initiate a very simple conversation – “is it safe to overtake?” If there was no oncoming traffic, the trucker would switch on the light above “OK”, telling the driver that it was “okay” to overtake as there was no chance of them blindly plunging into headlong traffic. Over time, due to the lack of maintenance put into the lights, they became used lesser and lesser. Once multi-lane highways showed up, the light lost its used completely but somehow, the phrase remained, possibly due to its aesthetic and artistic appeal. Fact File: In an attempt to decrease the noise pollution caused by honking, the Maharashtra government tried banning the phrase “Horn OK Please” to discourage drivers. Soon, the phrase was replaced by statements like “Maa ka Ashirvad” and “Buri Nazar Waale Teraa Muh Kaala”. However, most truckers still prefer the original phrase to any of its offshoots. A Safety Measure The statement was also used as a means to indicate whether the driver behind the truck was at a safe distance from it. The theory states that the phrase is often designed and artistically drawn in such a way that the OK is visible and legible only from a distance. If the driver gets too close, the OK intermingles with the rest of the design and is no longer visible. However, this theory seems dubious or has been neglected over the years as OK is mostly visible even at an unsafe close distance nowadays. At the same time, the phrase might also indicate that the driver behind the trucker honk to signal their presence, thereby establishing the fact that “hey, I’m behind you, just thought you should know that”. Either way, the phrase, according to this theory, indicates that the driver either maintain a safe distance or signal using their horn that they are around. Fact File: There is a dubious claim that the phrase was born out of a marketing campaign by a subsidiary of Tata Oil Mills which had released a bathing soap by the name “OK”. It is claimed that the company decided to use trucks as moving billboards for subliminal marketing.

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