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Interesting Origins of Police Words

Interesting Origins of Police Words

By Mignon Fogarty

March 11, 2010

If Only Graffito Were as Nice as Gelato

Who knew? Graffiti is the plural of the Italian word graffito, which means “an inscription or design.” It comes from a Latin word meaning “to write, scratch, or scribble.” In English, graffiti can be either singular or plural. You won’t hear graffito much around the station; archaeologists do use it, however, to describe a drawing or writing they find on ruins.

Hop in the Paddy Wagon

The term paddy wagon originated in the 1930s and is thought to come from the nickname for people of Irish descent: paddies. At the time, many police officers were Irishmen. Paddy itself is a nickname for Patrick.

Where Did Cop Come From?

Interestingly, cop can be both a noun meaning police officer and a verb meaning “to steal, take, or seize”: The kid copped a piece of candy. The origin is uncertain. The current meanings may be derived from the Latin word for “catch, seize, or capture”: capere. The “police” meaning is thought to have originated in America the 1850s.

As Clear as the Snitch on Your Face

To call someone a snitch can mean they are an informer or a thief. The “tattletale” meaning came first, originating around 1785, and the “pilfer” meaning came later, around 1900. In the crime world, “snitch” was slang for “nose,” and some sources believe that the “nose” meaning was the inspiration for the “informer” meaning. The “stealing” meaning may be a derivative of snatch, which itself comes from a Dutch word for “grasp or desire.”

Grammar Tip: Your Fellow Plurals

When you’re making compound nouns plural, the rule is to make the most important word plural:

• Deputy sheriffs • Attorneys general

Mignon Fogarty is the author of the New York Times bestseller Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She also produces a free Grammar Girl podcast on iTunes and a free daily e-mail newsletter that can be found at

  • Pug_max600_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Copper from the early English badges pounded out from a 3p (pence) coin about 1 1/2" diameter.

  • Sfa_iv_max50


    over 3 years ago


    I thought Consevator on Patrol was added to copper because of the copper in the 38 bullet?

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago

    reading I have done states the term cop, comes from england as the bobbies badges were made from coppers, british coins that were pounded out to make the badges , as were the badges of the sherrifs and marshalls in the old west , they were made from silver dollars.

  • Arnold_schwarzenegger_with_steven_max50


    about 4 years ago


    LarryCop, Butch2760 and I agree on the term "COP" was derived from the Enlish phrase "Constable On Patrol". Hey guys, please VOTE for me on name is Fairweather. Thx

  • 177601787v32_480x480_front_max50


    about 4 years ago


    I head that "Cop" came from the sound of copper plated boots striking cobblestone streets, and that's how they got their name.

  • Dsc00052_max50


    about 4 years ago


    I had heard that the earliest of communcations (telegraph, teletype) generated by law enforcement were almost exclusively generated by the Chiefs of the departments....To save time, and maybe funds, the signature Chief of Police Alan Smith became Alan Smith, C.O.P. All law enforcement correspondance became "Messages from COPS" or "COP Talk".....

  • Pug_max600_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Coppers were made from copper coins. Most buttons and badges came from coinage as it was the easiest to obtain and malleable. (workable and soft) compared to other metals. Sir Robert Peel's boys were called, BOBBY'S or PEELERS. The term "copper" was a more derogatory term.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    The first badges were copper. Back in the day there were no cruisers, they walked the beat, all of them. Their higher up's could tell by putting their hand on the badge if the cop was outside walking his beat, doing his job or inside the pub, or just inside period. That's the story i was told by one of my Sergeant

  • Wolfspirit_max50


    about 4 years ago


    This too is what I was told,
    Howiethecop got it right. Sir Robert Peel's men used to wear coats with large copper buttons. They were subsequently called "Coppers" which later shortened to the term we now know, "cop".

  • Rod_b_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Cop comes from the copper buttons that originally were on police uniforms in the early 19th century. It is short for "Copper" which I am told was the street slang for police during those times.

  • Uni1_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Cop from Copper

  • Me_max50


    about 4 years ago


    My understanding has been that "COP" came from England meaning "Constable on Patrol".

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago

    I was told "cop" came from the first badges made of copper ?

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    How about D.R.T.

  • Anonymous-killer-whale-232189_1__max50


    about 4 years ago


    A New Yorker friend of mine once told me that "COP" stood for "Cooping Out of Precinct"(Cooping meaning sleeping). He was, of course, pulling my leg !!!

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