Did "Cop" come from "copper" or Constable On Patrol

In this thread, the discussion takes a sideline veer into the origin of the word ‘cop’. Since it’s completely irrelevant to the subject of the thread, I thought I’d open a new one.

What is the etymology of calling a police officer a cop?

  • Rick

I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but it’s probably from “cop” meaning to grab. http://www.urbanlegends.com/language/etymology/cop_etymology_of.html


Once again, you can forget about any etymology that claims that a word known from before the 20th century came from an acronym. They just didn’t do them back then. “Cop” didn’t come from “Constable on Patrol.” “Posh” didn’t come from “Port Out, Starboard Home.” “Tip” didn’t come from “To Insure Promptness.” “Wog” didn’t come from “Wise Oriental Gentleman.”


While I’ve heard what you claim above many times before, and believe it to be true, it occurs to me now I don’t have a particular citation for it – nor, sadly, does your post.

So what’s the authority for the proposition that acronyms from before 1900 were just not done?

  • Rick

I always thought it came from “Citizens On Patrol”.

*So what’s the authority…? *

Sources whose etymological claims are based on reliable mainstream sources such as the OED. For instance, Errors in Popular Etymology, again at wordorigins.org

Also see this thread and check out the links that are given there.

Note that there’s a singular, and significant, exception to the “claims of derivation based on acronyms and abbreviations before 1900 are false” rule. To wit, O.K. Everything else, pretty much, is bunkum.