How and When Do You Honk ?
“Honk” falls into the category of onomatopoeic words in English.
These are words whose pronunciation resemble their meaning. Other examples would be “sizzle” or “cuckoo”, as cited in the Oxford Concise English Dictionary. (By the way, dear reader, if you already know the meaning of “onomatopoeic” in English, your English is pretty damn good. Certainly better than many native speakers. If you also know how to pronounce it, then you’ve earned a gold medal.)
The first meaning given for “honk” in the dictionary is “the cry of a wild goose”. I’m not one to quibble with lexicographers – a profession I have deep respect for – but I guess the cry of a wild goose is very similar to the cry of a domestic goose. Both sound like “honk”, although the wild goose is much louder, so should probably be capitalized for emphasis: “HONK”.
The second meaning is “the sound of a car horn”. This is the honk which I’m thinking about as I write this.
Before I go on, let me mention that the next word in the dictionary after “honk” is “honky”, which began is a mildly offensive slang term for white people. Later on, the word “honkie” emerged, which is a slang term for Hong Kong people. This means that as a white man and long-term resident of Hong Kong, I could be referred to as a Honky Honkie. But I digress …
Now back to “honk”, as in the sound of car horn. This past weekend, I drove out to Hong Kong’s New Territories –a district with a curious juxtaposition of beautiful, wild and unspoiled country parks, plus numerous truck repair and shipping container storage yards, low and high rise housing, and Hong Kong’s remaining small agricultural plots. From where I live this involves one harbor tunnel crossing, and then driving on a mix of highways and single lane rural roads.
We read about the imminent popularization of self-driving cars, as well as cars equipped with various accessories connected to the internet of things, and eventually those imbued with artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, however, cars are driven by ordinary people like you and me. And to communicate between vehicles, one option drivers have is honking. Other options include turning signals, flashing headlamps, waving your hands, etc.
Undesirable and dangerous inter-vehicle communication options include suddenly stopping your vehicle without notice, abruptly turning or changing lanes without signalling, etc. Unfortunately we’ve all seen plenty of drivers who communicate like this.
Sometimes when I drive out to the countryside, I leave the radio and music off. It’s a nice time to quietly reflect and observe. Through this experience I have discovered that there are two main types of honking which occur in traffic.
The first is the annoying, useless kind of honking, perpetrated by people who seems to lack patience and revel in the creation of noise pollution. Perhaps they have road rage, anger management issues or are very insecure in themselves. They seem compelled to seek attention by repetitive use of their car horn in situations where it serves no useful purpose whatsoever, such as immovable traffic jams.
The second type of honking is intended to catch the attention of another driver or pedestrian, often to signal a potential problem or safety issue. These are not compulsive honkers, but considerate honkers. I like to think I am one of these. (I guess that makes me a Honky Honkie Honker. Note to translator: don’t even try to translate that ….) My late father often counselled me, when I was a learner driver, to be a “defensive driver”; because you never know what the other guy is going to do. Good advice.
第二类鸣笛是希望引起其他车辆或行人的注意，一般是要提示潜在的问题或安全隐患。这些人没有鸣笛强迫症，在按喇叭时都思虑得比较周全。窃以为，我就属于这一类人。（如此，我是不是可以被称作“Honky Honkie Honker”呢？本文译者也别想着把这个词儿翻译出来了……）我学车时，先父常告诫我要做一个“防御性的司机”，因为你永远不知道其他司机会干出什么来。他说得特别对。
If you think about it, the zones where honking is most common are those places where different lanes of traffic merge: entrances and exits on highways, areas where three lane roads are reduced in width to only two lanes, etc. These, not surprisingly, are also frequently the zones where traffic accidents occur.
A lot of accidents could be prevented if more drivers exercised caution in these high-risk zones. Part of safe driving involves giving clear signals about your intentions, in advance, so that other drivers can anticipate your moves and avoid collisions. Turn signals are a routine way to achieve this. Honking is more of a last-minute warning to attempt to prevent an accident from occurring.
In driving, as in business partnerships and relationships generally, success depends on effective management of mutual expectations. That requires clear and effective communication of one’s intentions in advance of action being taken. An all-too-common mistake is to assume the other party understands and anticipates your next move. It’s far safer to assume the opposite, and try hard to achieve clear communication and mutual understanding.
Above all, if you see an accident about to happen, on the road or in business, honk like a wild goose rather than cooing like a pet pigeon.