The Police

As I know you are rarely wrong however I believe that you may be mistaken in your answer to:

Could you tell me more about the words fuzz, pigs, and cops and how they pertain to police? --Mike Paproski

Most references to the police as pigs or coppers can be accredited to cockney rhyming slang.

Lamb Chop - Cop
Grass Hopper - Copper
Bottles and Stoppers - Coppers
Lamb/Pork Chop - Cop/Pig
Pork Pies - Lies/Pig
John Hop - Cop
Ducks n’ Geese - F’in Police

The early police also had copper buttons on there uniforms perhaps another reference to copper?!?

The police were originally dubbed Peelers after Robert Peel which later became Bobbies (Bob being short for Robert)

It can also be said that that Pig comes from Squeeler to Peeler.

As for Fuzz - I have no idea on the origin so will not comment.


Before this gets moved to the right forum, let me add the link to Dex’s Staff Report so people can follow along.

This is exactly backward. The rhyming slang wouldn’t be the source of such terms but humorous commentary on already existing terms. IOW, The words cop and pig already had to be in common use before the slang could come about.

Didn’t you read the report at all?

Yes, Dex says this in his second paragraph.

It can? By whom? Using what evidence?

Welcome to the Boards, Nick, but if you want to have a good time here you’ll need to remember to read the column you’re commenting on as well as supplying actual evidence and not silly guesses for what you have to say.

As a matter of fact, when I was a kid a cop came to talk to us at our school. He said the term cop did come from the copper of the their badge. And it was derogatory. Now I’m not claiming this cop is an expert in etymology, but although
Dex says this is not the case, he does not say how he knows it’s not the case. So it cannot be dismissed as a possibility.

Well, just for starters, Dex said

Your school visitor was just repeating what he had heard. Dex’s opinions are more linguistically sound. Maybe you could research whether English police officers had copper badges before 1846.

Sure it can. When somebody says something known to be wrong it doesn’t in any way make it a possibility that it’s right.

I’ve always heard that the origin of “the fuzz” as a nickname for the police came from the expression “they stick to you like fuzz.”

You hear things like that all the time. But nothing exists to back it up.

A minor nitpick - Dex translated the French term gens d’arme as “people with weaponry.” Wouldn’t “men-at-arms” be a better rendering?

“Men-at-arms” is the conventional translation, but “people with weaponry” is more literal and unambiguous.

I was always always worried about such terms. For example, does the phrase “the missing arms of Venus” refer to the famous statue? …or to a science fiction story involving stolen weaponry from the planet?

Eschew ambiguity.

I can’t believe both Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison missed this one.

I also don’t see how “men-at-arms” is in any way ambiguous. Sure, it can be when broken into its componant words - “men” and “arms” - but a phrase is more than the sum of its parts. To use a rather odious example, the term anti-semite is often misinterperated as being ambiguous as well (“aren’t Arabs semites too?”); this is obviously incorrect.

No, “men-at-arms” can have but one meaning - professional soldiers of common descent who serve as members of a feudal household. Warriors who are one step below knights.

It depends on the period. It can mean knights fighting as infantry.

Hello teaming millions! Just thought i’d add that my great grand mother (not a great sorce I know) told me that the work copper comes from the copper looking badges that old english police used to wear. I don’t know how true this is but I though i’d flot the idea out there and see what the wise millions think.

Most etymologists discount this. THe story is told about too many different cities, with too many different uniforms, and most of them (when investigated) didn’t use copper. Your grandmother’s take is interesting, “copper-looking” rather than “copper,” but still, the word “copper” predates the traditional uniforms.

An additional point in favour of Dex’s explanation is that at common law, the constable or citizen who wanted to arrest a wrong-doer had to make actual physical contact with them, to control their movements. (“arrest” being derived from French “arrêter” - “Empêcher d’avancer, faire rester en place” - Petit Larousse).

The Supreme Court of Canada re-affirmed the traditional common law requirement for an arrest in the recent case of R. v. Asante-Mensah, at para. 42:

This point was of some significance in cases where an accused was charged with resisting arrest - mere words of command were not a valid arrest at common law.

Thus, using the verb “cop” in the sense of “seize, capture or snatch” indicates that the constable or citizen had met the legal requirement for a valid arrest, because they had actually made physical contact with the wrong-doer and tried to restrain him. A “copper” is thus someone who is in the business of making arrests.

And, the verb “to cop” survives in modern Canadian slang, at least - the phrase “to cop a feel” used by adolescents - is that phrase used in the U.S.?

Yep, that phrase is used in the US. I didn’t want to include it in my list, perhaps I shoulda.

It’s a common phrase in Britain too, although I’ve no idea if it’s a transatlantic import. There’s also “To cop off with…”, of which I’d be intrigued to know the etymology :wink:

There are also the phrases “cop out” and “cop a plea,” both derived from the sense of “cop” as “take.”

And don’t forget, “It’s a fair cop,” or a valid arrest.

That’s already in the report.