Let us all start with an agreement that all of us grew up reading this grammatically challenged phrase on almost all the trucks in India.
We tried to make what little sense we could from our elementary grammar education and asked enough questions to our parents about its origin. Today, as proud children of the digital world, the answers are just a Google search away.
The result is a mishmash of a number of explanations, facts, and conspiracy theories to explain the inexplicable.
What parents say
If you watch closely, you will notice that ‘OK’ is usually written in a bigger and bolder font. The earliest explanation I received corresponded with this observation.
‘OK’ is written in a bigger font to indicate the safe distance on road to the vehicle behind. ‘Horn’ and ‘Please’ in comparatively smaller font is intended to be visible when a vehicle is too close to the truck.
What conspiracy theorists say
The wildest explanation to come out is that ‘Horn OK Please’ was a sly marketing strategy of TATA Conglomerate for their new soaps and detergent named OK. After India got independence in 1947, TATA motors had an upper hand on trucks running on Indian roads for decades.
Therefore, the company decided to use trucks as their moving hoarding to advertise the new product. The iconic lotus flower truck art was logo of TATA soap and detergent. With time, ‘Horn OK Please’ turned into quintessential truck art.
What truckers say
A Quora user shares his interview with the truck drivers. There was a time when roads were single lane and overtaking a vehicle could prove to be fatal. Most of the trucks wouldn’t even have rear view mirrors to see if a smaller vehicle is trying to overtake.
Therefore, the OK design would have a bulb fixed which the truck drivers light to indicate clear road. It is guessed that due to maintenance issues and emergence of multi-lane roads, these bulbs disappeared but the phrase stayed.
What history says
Another popular origin story comes from the history of WWII. Due to the shortage of fuel, trucks would run on kerosene which could blow up on even on a small accident.
As a precaution and fair warning, truckers started to paint rears with ‘On Kerosene’ which abbreviated to OK and turned into ‘Horn OK Please’. This also explains the bold and upper case font of ‘OK’.
We can make fun as much we want of the semantics of this phrase and wonder all our lives about the mystery of its origin, but the pop culture saw quirkiness in it and made it into a Bollywood movie and a song.
This proves the point that you don’t always have to make sense in order to become fancy and popular among masses. ‘Horn OK Please’ is one such grammatically incorrect example of that.
Check out the song ‘Horn OK Please’ by Yo Yo Honey Singh: