Wake-Up Call —Its Meaning


An event or something that occurs that helps a person recognize that a certain problem needs fixing.

Example: Glen was being careless and nearly set his house on fire with a cigarette! This was a wake-up call for him and it motivated him to stop smoking.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
A Wake Up Call, Phone Ringing

Origin Of ‘Wake-Up Call’

It’s believed the common phrase ‘wake-up call’ comes from hotels. More specifically, an ‘alarm clock’ type service that hotels offered (I am unsure if this is still a thing they do). Let me elaborate:

While staying at a hotel, a person could make a request for a phone call to be sent their way in the morning. This call essentially served the same purpose as an alarm clock; it would help the person wake up at a specific time. Some hotels, instead of delivering a wake-up call via the phone, they would send a clerk to the person’s door instead. However, with phones as common as they are today, combined with the fact that it’s super easy to set our own alarms, I’m not sure if this service is even available anymore.

Anyway, the earliest recording that I have seen of this particular service is from the 1930s. It looks like hotels were not the only ones providing this ‘wake-up call’ service. For example, in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, 1933, it mentions how telephone subscribers could get a call at an hour of their choosing to help them wake up:

“‘WAKE UP’ CALLS. Telephone Service Started.

The Postal Department has Inaugurated a ‘wake up’ service for telephone subscribers; Up to the present 25 calls are made daily between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m., the subscriber being awakened by the persistent ringing of the telephone.”

Before that, though, this phrase was already in use figuratively. For example, in Munsey’s Magazine, 1917:

“‘It is not yet the time,’ he added, ‘to emphasize the financial details. It is the time, however, to sound the wake-up call.’ “

Tip: If you feel like reading about more phrases, you may want to check out our list of funny old sayings that people sometimes say wrong.

Example Sentences

  • Earlier today I sprained my ankle from tripping over the clutter in my apartment. This was a wake-up call to me because I realized that I should keep this place cleaner.
  • After weeks of dental issues, it was a wake-up call for how bad my dental hygiene has been.

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