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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

  • Officerdownbadge_max50


    about 5 years ago


    Learn somehting every day..hmm.. I have graffito on my wall...guess I need to add more....ok enough education before a graveyard shift.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago


    I was told, POLICE is from the Latin word "PEACE". Police Officer, Peace Officer.
    The phrase COP came from the NYPD when it first bacame a PD. The badges were made of copper.

  • 200px-underdog_max50


    about 5 years ago


    POLICE comes via French "Policier" from the Latin politia ("civil administration"), which itself derives from the ancient Greek πόλις ("city")

  • Img_0826_max50


    about 5 years ago



  • 180px-chp_4th_gen_camaro_in_traditional_colors_max50


    about 5 years ago


    Cool facts.

  • Img00015-20101105-1530_max50


    about 5 years ago


    that was pretty good

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago


  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago


    COP came originally from Constable Of Police (COP) although a competing belief is that it derived from the phrase 'a fair COP' which offenders would say in the early days of British policing.

    Policing came from Sir Robert Peel who created the Police Act around 1823 in Britain after trialling what we have all modelled policing on in Dublin from 1817 to 1819. His name is also where the British term of 'Bobby' comes from as Bobby is a nick name for Robert.

    Paddy wagon is said to have derived from policing in Chicargo and New York in the late 1800's and early 1900's as many police were either Irish or of Irish decent and referred to Police horse drawn vans as 'Paddy Wagons'.


  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago


    Figures, chalk another one up to the (now rich) SCUM BAG!

  • Hpim1237_max50


    about 5 years ago


    When I was working on my Criminology degree (they didn't have Police Science back in the dark ages) we had a famous law enforcement historian come talk about the argot of police work. He mentioned the Constable on Patrol and the copper button theories, but he seemed to think that COP came from the middle English term "Constable of Police" (Long before New York was settled). I recall that he stated that there was a jurisdictional difference back then, and that the Sheriff (Shire Reefs) reported to the local noble man and was responsible for things like warrants and liens, while the constable of police was responsible for keeping townspeople safe and for putting drunks and debtors in jail (Jaol).
    This is all from an old guy (me) whose memory can tell you the exact elapsed time and mile per hour that I ran at a race in 1956, but can't tell you what I had for breakfast this AM...Interesting subject

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago

    I agree with wnagy, I thought it came from the copper buttons.
    I also heard somewhere that "by the book" could refer to the practice of persuading a suspect to confess by use of a telephone book, but don't quote me on that one.
    I also heard that "Pig" came from the 60's Chicago riots where the CPD wore gas masks with a filter that resembled a pig snout, so the hippies called the Officers "pigs" or something like that.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago


    We were advised in the Police academy many years ago for me , that cop came from the copper buttuns on the old police uniform. So I agree with "Wnagy "

  • Images_max50


    about 5 years ago


    I thought cop came from copper, as in the copper buttons on an older style of police uniform.

  • Jerry_max50


    about 5 years ago


    Anyone know how "the fuzz" got going ?

  • Meandmytlr1_max50


    about 5 years ago


    I have heard the same thing that vvegaiii said. I heard it came from the copper badge and police officers use to take offense to the word COP.

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