On our sister site a user recently used the term "tags" in relation to taxis in China.

I thought it might mean some kind of official authorization to operate a taxi.

But upon clarification I was told "tags" actually means "License plates and stickers that show the registration is currently valid".

I'm a native speaker of Australian English and I've travelled in almost every English speaking country and didn't know this use of "tags", though I guess this is not a topic that's come up in conversation in my travels often either.

In which countries would this sense be known?

  • Just USA?
  • USA and it's neighbours in Canada and Belize?
  • All English speaking countries other than Australia?
  • Even in Australia and I somehow remained ignorant of it despite having classic cars as a hobby for a number of years?
  • "Tags" is a common short-hand for "license plates" in the US (and is rarely used in the singular, even in states that have only one plate). Though "tags" may also be used to refer to the annual renewal stickers on the license plates. And in some cities "tag" may be used to refer to the separate cab license sticker on a taxi cab. – Hot Licks Mar 9 '15 at 13:07
  • From West's Florida statutes annotated, apparently citing original text from 1955: ...amount representing difference between purchase price of new tag and proportionate part of license fee paid for taxi tag for part of the year during which it is not used – FumbleFingers Mar 9 '15 at 13:08

It has that meaning in the US, although it's a bit jargon-y. Most people will say "plates", but most will understand "tags" at least in context. When you buy a car at the dealer you pay a "tag and title" fee through the dealer to have the car registered and receive a license plate, and the shops that exist in some states to handle registration paperwork outside of the DMV offices are usually called "tag and title service". You might also hear a policeman report something about "a white Chevy with Michigan tags."

Despite how it may seem, "tags" does refer to the license plate, not specifically to the sticker or decal that's attached to the plate to show that the registration is current. Wiktionary is in agreement with me on this one (ety 1, n. 8.)

| improve this answer | |
  • Yep, the registration month/year stickers are usually called "stickers". – Hot Licks Mar 10 '15 at 19:20
  • 1
    Correct. In my state at least, license plates must be purchased from a "Tag agent", so that is in fact the government-accepted word for a license plate. – T.E.D. Apr 22 '15 at 16:14
  • In my state tag only refers to the sticker, I believe. Also I'm pretty sure it's "tax and title" not "tag and title'. It's possible they use the other phrase where you're from, but anywhere I've ever been (several states), TV commercials, etc., all say "tax and title fees" (or sometimes "tax, title, and registration"); I've never heard the other. But that isn't to say it's not true for where you're from. – RastaJedi Jul 27 '19 at 14:15

I can't speak definitively for other countries, but certainly in Canada and the US, referring to a car's "plates and tags" indicates their license plate, which generally lasts for multiple years (my state replaces my license plates every 7 years) and their registration renewal tag, which is a smallish sticker (about 3cm x 5cm) affixed to one corner of the plate; the tag displays the year number of its issue, so if a police officer examines your license plate and discovers that its tag is not showing the current year, he can cite you for driving with an expired registration.

The Wikipedia article on vehicle registration plates only calls out the US as an example of countries requiring the use of a sticker (they call it a decal on the page) to indicate the year of registration. I flipped through some of their "License Plates by Country" pages and did not find anyplace besides Canada and the US where registration stickers were visible in the sample images.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I believe Germany uses something similar where the upper of two stickers indicates renewal [or issue] status. But I've no idea what those are called. – Andrew Leach Mar 10 '15 at 10:24
  • @AndrewLeach, the German word for such a sticker is “Plakette”. – Carsten S Nov 30 '15 at 7:45
  • 1
    In Australia, the sticker is placed on the front windscreen, not on the plates; and "tags" are graffiti or the dangly labels on clothes, etc - but nothing to do with car licence/registration. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Jul 14 '16 at 6:30

The only place I've ever heard someone call a license plate a 'tag' is in Alabama when I visited a friend of the family there. I've never heard anyone use that in the Midwest or West. I think it's southern slang, but it's so very common there that no other word is used.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. Please note that this is not a discussion forum, but a Q&A site, and we try to attract answers which are definitive. Personal anecdotes are fine but they are expected to be backed up with evidence; otherwise, we have only a collection of anonymous opinions, not reliable answers. Please take the site tour and review the help center for a better understanding of the goals and operation of the site. For what it's worth, I grew up in Southern California, and people said tags to mean license plates all the time. – choster Jul 14 '16 at 14:05
  • Same with Georgia. But I've hardly ever hear anyone say it back in RI or MA. I've only heard it a couple times and it specifically was in regards to the sticker (pretty sure about this). – RastaJedi Jul 27 '19 at 14:18

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.