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My family is South African, and I grew up hearing them saying "hooting", referring to cars honking their horns. Of course now that I'm an adult I'm aware that's common usage, as I learned this after moving abroad and being chuckled at a few times. However, out of curiosity I recently had a look to see if I could see if this usage of "hooting" is peculiar to South African regional English, or whether it's just my family.

My question is, where (if anywhere) is it common to refer to cars honking their horns as "hooting"? Is it British? Is it particularly old-timey?

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to turn up any concrete answers, except for this forum thread where an English teacher of unknown provenance asks my exact question. The responses aren't particularly enlightening, but a user from Leicester says it's valid, and this StackExchange comment also implies it's valid UK usage, so I thought I'd ask the wise users of StackExchange for their thoughts :).

  • in English to hoot or toot a horn goes back to the 13th C. I do not think any region can claim ownership. – lbf Aug 15 at 14:02
  • I'm Australian. I say "honking", but i think I've heard "hooting" from time to time and it seemed fine. – nnnnnn Aug 15 at 14:11
  • Maybe I've simply been around folks who had never heard this usage. Strange! I was hoping to hear that it was some regional thing. @lbf, do you have a source for that? I'm quite curious to read about it. – RogerTheDragon Aug 16 at 2:24
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In English, to hoot or toot a horn goes back to the 13th C. I do not think any region can claim ownership.

hoot OED verb

To shout, call out, make an inarticulate vocal noise; to toot with a horn

As in:

a1225 [implied in: Juliana 52] Ne make bu me nawt men to huting ant to hokere. (at hooting n. a)].

More recent from google books (and there are many more):

I did hear a car hooting, but I honestly thought it was out in the road.

  • To be fair, that definition doesn't say anything about usage in the context of a car's horn, specifically. I guess I was trying to feel out whether it was just me, or whether others used the word this way, too. Because certainly folks around me have said they think it sounds pretty strange. – RogerTheDragon Aug 16 at 3:36

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