Wake-Up Call – Meaning and Examples


A wake-up call is an expression that means a person is unaware of a problem, but something happens to them that helps them to recognize that the problem exists and that it needs fixing.

Example: Glen was BBQing on his back porch when all of a sudden, his grill caught on fire. This was a wake-up call for him and from then on, he made sure to keep his grill clean.

1. A rude awakening
2. An eye opener

A Wake Up Call, Phone Ringing

The Origin Of ‘Wake-Up Call’

It’s believed the common hotels. How so? Well, hotels offered a ‘wake-up call’ service, or in other words, an ‘alarm clock’ type service to its guests. Let’s talk about it:

While staying at a hotel, a person could make a request for a phone call to be sent to them 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

  • Weeks and weeks of dental issues was a wake-up call to me; I need to keep better care of my teeth from now on.
  • Earlier today I tripped over the clutter in my apartment and it resulted in me getting a sprained ankle. This was a wake-up call because I realized that this place needs to be cleaner.

Similar Example:

  • When my sister pointed out the amount of sugar I eat every day, it was an eye opener; I eat way too much!
  • If you think this job is easy, you’re in for a rude awakening once you start.