Antedating of Modern Sense of "Police"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Nov 4 14:30:51 UTC 2012

On Nov 4, 2012, at 8:38 AM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:

> police (OED3, 5.a., 1798)
> 1794 Patrick Colquhoun _Observations and Facts Relative to Licensed Ale-Houses_ 18 (Eighteenth Century Collections Online)  His [an immoral publican's] house, in spite of all the vigilance of the parish or police officers, becomes a complete school of vice and wickedness.
> Fred Shapiro
Aha.  Maybe that's what P. D. James had in mind in her Austen pastiche (_Death Comes to Pemberley_, 2011) with her repeated invocations of "the police".  (See earlier thread on "anachronism watch" from last May.)  Our assumption was that the pre-Austen cites in the OED, including the ones from Colquhon--

 a. The civil force of a state responsible for maintaining public order and enforcing the law, including preventing and detecting crime; (with pl. concord) members of a police force, police officers; the local constabulary. The earliest use in this sense occurs in Marine Police (see marine n. 6), the name given to the force instituted c1798 (originally by private enterprise) to protect merchant shipping on the River Thames in the Port of London. The police force established for London in 1829 was for some time known as the New Police (see New Police n. at new adj. and n. Special uses 2a).
1798   Duke of Portland Let. 16 May in P. Colquhoun Treat. Commerce & Police R. Thames (1800) 160 (note)    The expence of the Marine Police Establishment, which appeared to me ought to be borne by Government.
1800   P. Colquhoun Treat. Commerce & Police R. Thames 219   To place their Vessels‚Ä•under the protection of the Police.

--involved a much more restricted force than in the modern use of the term, but perhaps Fred's new find might be what James had in mind, assuming she'd located this in her well-thumbed Eighteenth Century Collections Online.


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