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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 http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com.


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  • Pa310321_max50

    batman461

    about 5 years ago

    24 Comments

    I was told it came from the English, meaning "Constable on Patrol"

  • Img_1566_max50

    lonestar264

    about 5 years ago

    76 Comments

    I was told in 1978, while attending a training program that COP is Constable on Patrol. That is foot patrol.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    rmerkle

    about 5 years ago

    40 Comments

    Constable On Patrol I agree

  • 1051193310_l_max50

    95Zcar

    about 5 years ago

    3992 Comments

    Constable1 and others are correct, COP=Constable On Patrol from the era of Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel; which by the way is why British Coppers are called "Bobbies". Pig? Dunno, think it comes from the hoodlums of the 60's.

  • Au_max50

    ds212

    about 5 years ago

    1508 Comments

    cool stuff

  • Vlad2006_max50

    vvegaiii

    about 5 years ago

    84 Comments

    I've read servingproud's definition of Cop before. Cop from a policeman's copper badge--"He's a copper"-- shortened to cop.

  • 1asteriskshield_max50

    IAMDALAW

    about 5 years ago

    1192 Comments

    Cool, send some more info.

  • Chase_9-11-08b_max50

    fire2gether

    about 5 years ago

    40 Comments

    http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2209/why-are-the-police-ca...

    This website seemed to have some differences of opipinion...lol...but was interesting on the terms: cop, pig, fuzz...LOL and i thought we called them the fuzz in the 70's because of there nice fuzzy jackets....lol

  • 54697_l_max50

    Constable1

    about 5 years ago

    24 Comments

    Constable on patrol (COP) Started in England something about the Sir Robert Peele era.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    TeachDJ

    about 5 years ago

    208 Comments

    "ServiingProud": I heard that too. Copper badges.

  • Wtc_badge_max600_max160_max50

    servingproud

    about 5 years ago

    4654 Comments

    Copper came from New York, Back then Badges were made of Copper, Hence the Name Copper.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    LTJT177

    about 5 years ago

    16 Comments

    I think the term paddy wagon was in use prior to the 1930s. Police agencies in large (and small) towns and cities used horse drawn wagons to transport prisoners starting in the early 1800's. I've seen pictures from the 1880's of uniforms officers and prisoners riding in "paddy wagons".

  • 802193-r1-11-13a_max50

    northern_templar

    about 5 years ago

    58 Comments

    Hey Wings as Eagles.... Patience. Integrity and Guts. Put that in your friggin pipe and smoke it.

  • Flag_in_the_eye_max50

    RTJC

    about 5 years ago

    46 Comments

    Pride - Integrity -Guts Hell, works for me!

  • Invertt_max50

    Wings_as_Eagles4031

    about 5 years ago

    88 Comments

    Ok so "C.O.P., for "Constable On Patrol" sounds good but where did the term "Pig" come from?
    Can anyone help with that one???

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