The Straight Dope: Why are the police called cops, pigs, or the fuzz?

Monday, 6 February 2012 | comments

The Straight Dope: Why are the police called cops, pigs, or the fuzz? Could you tell me more about the words fuzz, pigs, and cops and how they pertain to police?

— Mike Paproski

Etymology is rarely an exact science. Words or phrases spring up, become popular, and eventually may find their way into print. The process takes time, and it's usually difficult or impossible to track backwards to discover where a particular word or phrase arose.

Let's start with cop. Cop the noun is almost certainly a shortening of copper, which in turn derives from cop the verb. The London police were called bobbies, after Sir Robert Peel who advocated the creation of the Metropolitan Police Force in 1828. Copper as slang for policeman is first found in print in 1846, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The most likely explanation is that it comes from the verb "to cop" meaning to seize, capture, or snatch, dating from just over a century earlier (1704).

The derivation of the verb is unclear. Most authorities trace it to the French caper and before that to the Latin capere, to seize, take. Other English words derived from capere include capture. Thus, a copper is one who seizes. An alternative theory is that to cop comes from the Dutch kapen, meaning to take or to steal.

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