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constable not on patrol

March 18, 2009

Happy Original Post

Q. Why are police officers called “cops”?

A. The term originated in Great Britain and is an acronym for Constable on Patrol.

Disappointing Addendum

Just minutes ago during mid-post-fact-verification, I discovered that this romantic tidbit just isn’t true. Apologies to the people I’ve misled with the delightful acronym and who, at the time of their enlightenment, were understandably wowed by my mad etymology skills. Now let’s set things straight. (Hopefully my source is reliable.) The word “cop” as a name for police officers has undergone many changes, but here’s a summary:

1. It originated with the verb “to cop,” meaning “to take or seize” or “arrest.” 

2. The person doing this arresting came to be called a “copper.”

3. “Copper” was shortened to “cop.”

What a bummer! I wanted it to mean Constable on Patrol. I like the idea of the Mary Poppins constable or the Make Way for Ducklings police man strolling down the sidewalk and whistling as he swings his club… on patrol.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 19, 2009 6:58 am

    I’ve also heard that it’s a shortening of copper, but I heard that was in reference to what their badges were made of.

    Something I’ve learned about language is that if an etymology seems cool or interesting or in any way like something that ought to be in an email forward, then it is almost certainly not accurate.

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