An Unscheduled Wake-up Call from a Klaxon

14376479563_5e58409b56_kWaiting for the train this morning, I had an out-of-body experience when the engineer fired the klaxon just a few feet from my ear.

Klaxon, as you probably know, is the thundering voice of the train, the warning signal; like a car horn only much deeper and louder.

I remember learning this word  years ago when I heard a Mexican man refer to a car horn in Spanish as a “claxon.” He pronounced it “CLAHK-sohn.”

9481071415_6280ac357c_kThe sound of the word made me think it was a foreign one borrowed by Spanish speakers. I did some quick research and discovered the English word “klaxon.”

It’s interesting how once you’re aware of a new word you start hearing and reading it everywhere. Most likely you had come across it many times before and it just never penetrated your consciousness. Now I see klaxon fairly often and occasionally use it in conversation. Spanish speakers use claxon even more than it’s used in English and it also exists in several other modern languages.

Where did the word come from? I thought klaxon might have been a proper noun at some point, an invention named after its creator like a Zeppelin or a Colt revolver. According to klaxon was once a trademarked name and comes not from an inventor’s surname but from the Greek word “klazo” meaning “roar, make a sharp sound.”

In any case, its sharp sound roared me right out of my skin this morning.


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