Monday, January 13, 2014

Call the Cops!

Everyone probably knows that a British policeman is known as a bobby because the 1829 Metropolitan Police Act that created the police force was introduced by Home Secretary Robert Peel.  For the same reasons cops in Britain and Ireland were sometimes called peelers.

But why are they called cops?  The word is a shortened form of copper, dating from around 1704, which derives from a northern British dialect word cop, meaning “seize or catch,” from the French caper (“take or seize”), ultimately from the Latin capere (“take”). 

As logical as this etymology is, some people prefer a more exotic version of the origin of copper. They say it refers to the helmets, uniform buttons, badges, or truncheons used by police and made of copper.  Yet another specious explanation stems from the color of early police cars in the western United States, and still another from the acronym “Constable On Patrol.” 

To which one can only say “Cheese it”—a thieves’ slang phrase of unknown origin, dating to 1812 or earlier, meaning “depart quickly.”  It is mostly heard when the police arrive in a 1940s crime movie and someone in the act of committing an offense says, “Cheese it—the cops!”

Cheesy (especially the stinky kind) is undoubtedly the word that best describes the sour curds produced by the Bard of Buffalo Bayou—to wit:  

            Next time you’re in a jam and need crime-stoppers,
            And you don’t want to simply call the coppers,
            Expand and sharpen your vocabulary,
            Learn all the names of the constabulary:
            When you’re required to nab a crook or mobster,
            Then call a Flatfoot, Smokey Bear, or Lobster,
            The Fuzz, the Pigs, the Brass, the Doughnut Squad,
            Or Johnny Law, Town Clown, or Mister Plod.
            And when a crime’s committed by a baddie,
            Hail a Muldoon, Blue Meanie, or a Paddy,
            A Mork, an Asphalt Cowboy, or a Swine,
            An Ossifer, the Man, the Thin Blue Line,
            The Mounties, Brownies, Barneys, Boys in Blue,
            A Muppet, Rozzer, Bizzie, Bull, Gumshoe,
            A Stick Man, String Top, Roach, Bluecoat, or Dick—
            One of these is sure to do the trick.
            If not, there’s Scuffers, Five-Os, Ducks and Geese—
            Or maybe you could simply yell, “Police!” 

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