I’ve watched a lot of Python, and there’s one line that comes up frequently that always leaves me a little baffled. It’s the one that goes, “It’s a fair ( ), but I blame society.” It sounds to me like “it’s a fair COP” but I’m not sure that’s the right word. I feel like the accent is getting the better of me.
I get the gist of the line and its humor, but I’ve never been certain what exactly “it’s a fair cop” (if that is the right word) means, or how it is derived. Can any limeys out there give me some insight? This has bugged me for a long time.
Main Entry: 2cop
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): copped; cop·ping
Etymology: perhaps from Dutch kapen to steal, from Frisian kApia to take away; akin to Old High German kouf trade – more at CHEAP
1 slang : to get hold of : CATCH, CAPTURE; also : PURCHASE
2 slang : STEAL, SWIPE
cop a plea : to plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to avoid standing trial for a more serious one broadly : to admit fault and plead for mercy
In The Quest For The Holy Grail, Connie Booth’s character says, very quietly, “It’s a fair cop” when the duck outweighs her in the big balance. It took me many viewings to be able to understand what she was saying.
you’ve got it right - “cop” is rather oldish slang for arrest. A “fair cop” is one where the arrested person admits that there was a reason for the arrest.
The phrase reflects the common law of arrest. At common law, an arrest wasn’t complete until the peace officer physically took hold of the miscreant. For example, in R. v. Asante-Mensah the Supreme Court of Canada adopted this definition of when an arrest is valid, based on the common law:
So the peace officer has to physically take the accused into custody for a valid arrest, but if the accused submits to the arrest, the physical touching is not necessary, and the arrest is valid at law. So the accused’s submission, such as a statement that he accepts that he’s under arrest, can be a substitute for the physical contact required by law - it’s a fair arrest.
So why “cop”? It’s because “cop” is slang for grabbing something. Roget’s gives this set of synonyms:
A peace officer can be said to have “copped” someone when they arrest them by physical contact, as required by the common law, so by extension, an arrest can be said to be a “cop”. (Note that this is the same slang term in the adolescent phrase, “copped a feel”).
Take the fact that an arrestee can admit that the arrest is valid by submitting to it, add the slang usage for “cop”, and you’ve got the phrase, “it’s a fair cop.”
Whether the phrase was actually used very much, I don’t know. It sounds to me like the sort of thing Rumpole would expect to hear his better class of old-fashinoned career criminals say, not the young smash-and-grab types.
Early in the film, Paden and Emmett are travelling to Silverado and pass through a small town where Emmett is expecting to meet up with his brother. In a saloon, they see a couple guys hassling Mal and a small scuffle breaks out. The local sheriff, who you might recognize, comes in and says…