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1. A phone call that one schedules to be placed to one's hotel room in order to be woken up at a certain time. I set an alarm and scheduled a wake-up call so there's no way I oversleep for the first conference session tomorrow.
2. An event that triggers a sense of urgency or the motivation to make a change. Harold's sudden chest pain was the wake-up call he needed to finally see his doctor. That terrible car accident was just the wake-up call I needed to quit my boring office job and start acting again.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
A portentous event, report, or situation that brings an issue to immediate attention. For example, The rise in unemployment has given a wake-up call to state governments, or The success of the online subscription is a wake-up call to publishers. This metaphoric term originated in the second half of the 1900s for a telephone call arranged in advance to awaken a sleeper, especially in a hotel. Its figurative use dates from about 1990.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
a wake-up call
COMMON A wake-up call is something which shocks people, making them understand how serious a problem is and causing them to take action in order to solve that problem. These extreme weather patterns should act as a wake-up call to our complacent leaders. Climate change is happening and we need to act now. The report is intended as a wake-up call for governments around the world to take action to improve healthcare resources for young people. Note: If you have a wake-up call, you arrange for someone to telephone you at a certain time in the morning so that you are sure to wake up at that time.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
a ˈwake-up callan event that makes people realize that they must take action in a dangerous situation: The recent storms and floods have been a wake-up call for many people about the reality of climate change.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
Also, wake-up time. An event, report, or situation that brings an issue to immediate attention. The term originated in the mid-1900s for a phone call arranged to awaken a sleeper at a given time, usually in a hotel. It began to be used figuratively in the late twentieth century. A New York Times headline over Joe Nocera’s article about a bank regulator interview read, “Wake-up Time for a Dream” (meaning home ownership; June 11, 2010). Also, Gregg Hurwitz used it in They’re Watching (2010), “But either the vows mean something or they don’t. This is a wake-up call, Patrick, for both of us.”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer