Etymology of "The Fuzz" as slang for police

Where did the term “the Fuzz” come from? My WAG would be truckers, but what is the meaning behind it?

Nothing definitive, but here’s some speculation via the Word Detective.

I always thought it was because the cops often had a crewcut–short fuzzy hair on their head–as opposed to the long-haired dope-smoking freaks they were engaged in policing during the 60s and early 70s.

Partridge says it was adopted ca. 1950’s in Canada from 1) fuzzy growths of beards of old style cops or 2) “furry growths of parasitic mold.”

While some may like explanation no. 2 it doesn’t fit the conotation - a policeman not necessarily good or bad.

My copy of Dictionary of American Slang has it as hobo, carnival, and underworld usage for policeman or detective esp. a diligent one. It also defines it as a range horse - perhaps some reference to mounted cops or texas rangers? Range horse cite is from the 1880’s

Evan Morris is correct. It is cited from 1929, definitely a US slang word. Origin still unknown at this date.

Sorry, I’ve no idea where the term ‘The Fuzz’ came from, but this thread just reminded me of an old joke I heard ages ago…

… A little old lady wanted to join a biker club. She knocked on the door of a local biker club and a big, hairy, bearded biker with tattoos all over his arms answers the door. She proclaims “I want to join your biker club”.
The guy was amused and told her that she needed to meet certain biker requirements before she was allowed to join.
So the biker asks her “You have a bike?”
The little old lady says “Yea, that’s my Harley over there” and points to a Harley parked in the driveway.
The biker asks her “Do you smoke?”
The little old lady says “Yea, I smoke. I smoke 4 packs of cigarettes a day and a couple of cigars while I’m shooting pool”.
The biker is impressed and asks “Well, have you ever been picked up by the Fuzz?”.
The little old lady says “No, I’ve never been picked up by the fuzz, but I’ve been swung around by my nipples”.

Sorry again - please continue…

The word detective said this:

This goes along with what my dad told me (he’s 78 now), that guys would show contempt in this way by referring to someone as “the guy with the fuzzy balls.” My dad always thought that this is the origin of “fuzz.”

In the “Burke’s Law” episode Who Killed the Eleventh Best Dressed Woman in the World? (1964), Amos Burke refers to his right-hand man Det. Tim Wilson as “young fuzz.” It’s not obvious from the context whether it’s meant as a slang for ‘cop,’ or an indication of his youth (as in “fuzz” referring to adolescent whiskers).

Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova wrote a story about a robot cop and titled it “Brillo,” as in metal fuzz.

'Twas the nadir of the 60s.

Not directly related (and/or relevant) but I believe it is a British expression, and one the other British slang terms for police “Rozza” comes (I have been told) from the Yiddish work for roast pork (and hence is actually very derogatory) .

There is also The Filth which is not exactly flattering.

And Da Babylon, I don’t think that’s friendly, but it may just be a Jeremy Hardy affectation :slight_smile:

Rozzer (not rozza) comes from Robert Peel, the founder of the modern british police force. Same as bobby and peeler. All very outdated now.

The Filth apparently derives from backwards slang for "police " = “ecilop”="slop "=“filth.”

Huh. I always thought it came from the staticky sound of a voice over a cop’s car radio. It looks like I’m probably wrong, although the probable 1929 origin wouldn’t eliminate this as a possibility, I think.

Well you still hear the term “bobby on the beat” in a British context and peeler is still current in Northern Ireland.

True about bobbies on the beat; I had no idea about NI using peeler. I kinda like that such an old slang term is still being used.

I picked up an old mystery, Clayton Rawson’s The Headless Lady, from 1940.

It’s set in a traveling circus and has pages of circus slang translated for the readers. I assume that it’s pretty accurate because Rawson was himself a magician and an expert on that whole world.

Anyway, it’s got this exchange [chapter 3]:

This doesn’t help identify the origin of the term, but it says that it was so unusual that ordinary readers wouldn’t be expected to understand it. I read a lot of old mysteries and I can’t ever remember seeing it used this far back. Additionally, circus slang and underworld slang don’t overlap that much to my knowledge, though sam could correct me on that, so it might be another pathway to investigate.

I’ve found it back in 1924 so far. US police/underworld slang. Not likely circus.

How does “rozzer” come from Robert Peel? “Rah” sound short for “Robert?” Weird.

Farther along in that chapter I found a comment that circus and underworld slang used to overlap but didn’t as much in their present time. So it could easily have been an older borrowing that they kept.

This followed several zillion more terms including an entire page of pickpocketing slang. I assume the book is a known resource to circus slang experts, but if you’re curious it’s cheaply available as a paperback.