What Does Wake-Up Call Mean?

Wake-Up Call Meaning

Definition: An event that causes a person to realize something or make a change; a literal phone call at a hotel to wake-up an occupant.

A wake-up call is usually a negative event that causes a person to try to fix a problem.

It also has a literal meaning in the hotel industry. If you are an occupant at a hotel and request a “wake-up call,” the front desk will call your room to wake you up in the morning.

Origin of Wake-Up Call

wake up call definitionThis expression first appeared around the 1900s and came from a common practice at hotels. Many hotels offer a courtesy phone call to help their guests wake-up in the morning.

The guests can choose what time they would like the hotel employee to call them. Over time, this expression began to be used figuratively.

Examples of Wake-Up Call

define wake-up callA man tells his friend about a realization he had in the conversation below.

Kira: Wow! You look totally different. Why did you change your style so much?

Dan: Do you like it?

Kira: Sure. But I liked your old look, too. What happened?

Dan: Well, you remember how I was always complaining about my old job?

Kira: Yeah.

Dan: They asked me to come in on my only day off in over a month. That was a real wake-up call for me. I decided that I needed to get serious about finding a better job. My parents told me I looked too unprofessional, so I gave myself a makeover. I got a few nice suits and a haircut.

Kira: Did it work? Could you find a new job?

Dan: I have an interview tomorrow!

The following example involves two women talking about their families.

Gertrude: Has the situation with your daughters improved at all?

Ruby: Yes, actually. They both forgot my birthday. I was really upset about it.

Gertrude: Oh no! That doesn’t sound like an improvement.

Ruby: It was a wake-up call. It made them realize that they had been ignoring me. After that, they made a huge effort to spend more time with me!

Gertrude: That’s awesome! I’m glad to hear it worked out.

Ruby: Yeah, thank goodness.

More Examples

This newspaper uses the expression to explain that the United States needs to fix the high costs of its health care system.

  • The high quality and low cost represent the type of disruptive innovation that has impacted nearly all industries in the United States, and should serve as a wake-up call for American doctors and hospitals.  –USA Today

In this example, a famous pop star realizes that he should make some changes in his life after being arrested for having drugs.

  • Charges against Soo, Bowie, Pop and Bowie’s bodyguard were eventually dropped, but their reputations had been tarnished. Ehlers considers the arrest a “wake-up call” in a drug-addled chapter of Bowie’s life. –USA Today


The phrase a wake-up call alerts a person to a situation that needs to be changed or improved.