#TIL: Horn OK or Not OK, please?

By Aishwarya Raman

Source: Adam Cohn via Flickr/cc

Prominently painted on the backs of trucks in India is the hand-lettered and grammatically unsound slogan, “Horn OK Please”. The iconic phrase — oft-regarded the truckers’ anthem — is a straightforward message to other road users: “honk before overtaking”. While this important piece of communication compensates for the lack of functional side-view mirrors or non-observance of lane discipline, its origin is shrouded in intrigue.

The most fascinating theory takes one back to World War II, when trucks in India ran on kerosene, notably due to diesel’s worldwide shortage. Thus, the phrase, “Horn Please, On Kerosene”, to warn other drivers to keep their distance.

Another apocryphal explanation is that the phrase originated from trucks manufactured by Tata Motors. It is argued that since ‘OK TATA’ is a common way of saying goodbye in India, truckers placed an ‘OK’ next to the TATA logo, with ‘Horn Please’ painted on both sides but not connected to it in any way.

A fanciful interpretation is that the Tata conglomerate subtly painted “OK” on the back of its trucks to advertise its now discontinued “OK” bath soap — India’s first indigenously produced branded soap.

While urban legends on the phrase’s genesis abound, the Maharashtra government said “tata-bye-bye” to “Horn OK Please” in 2015, on the grounds that it encouraged motorists to honk unnecessarily, caused noise pollution, and violated Section 134 (1) of the Maharashtra Motor Vehicle Rules.

Be that as it may, hand-painted Indian typography is as ubiquitous on trucks, buses and auto-rickshaws as it’s readily seen as shop or street signage or even political advertising across India. Next time you step out, be sure to notice this traditional art form before the digital takes over everything.

Today I Learnt (TIL) is a weekly series by OMI that brings you interesting nuggets of information that you didn’t know you needed.

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OMI is a new-age policy research and social innovation think tank! For website, visit https://ola.institute

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OMI is a new-age policy research and social innovation think tank! For website, visit https://ola.institute