An event or something that occurs that alerts a person to a problem that needs fixing.
Example: I was smoking on my patio and I carelessly left a cigarette burning on the ground. I nearly set my house on fire because of that! This was the wake-up call I needed to stop.
Origin Of ‘Wake-Up Call’
It’s believed that the common phrase ‘wake-up call’ comes from hotels, or more specifically, an ‘alarm clock’ type service that hotels offer (though I don’t know if this is a thing anymore). Let me elaborate:
While staying at a hotel, people who wanted help waking up could make a request for a phone call to be sent their way in the morning. This essentially served the same purpose as an alarm clock. Some hotels, instead of calling the person, they would simply have a clerk go to the person’s door. However, these days, with phones being as common as they are and the fact that it’s super easy to set our own alarms, I’m not so sure how common this service is anymore.
Anyways, the earliest recording that I could find of this particular service is from the 1930s. It looks like hotels were not the only ones to provide this ‘wake-up call’ service. The following example comes from The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, 1933, where telephone subscribers could get a call at an hour of their choosing to help wake them 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.”
Even before that, though, this phrase was apparently already being used in a figurative way. 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.’ “
- After getting tired from a mere two minutes of strenuous activity, it was a wake up call to me, because I realized that I needed to start an exercise routine to get myself back into shape.
Note: Know Your Phrase has idioms and the meanings for common sayings, and we have a list of them, so go ahead and use it if you are looking for one in particular.