Another Irish Cop

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Dec 12 20:55:03 UTC 2004

These putative Irish etymologies have me wondering about what Daniel Cassidy might suggest for "palooka" and "jalopy," both "orig. unkn." and both from the '20s.


Daniel Cassidy <DanCas1 at AOL.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Daniel Cassidy
Subject: Another Irish Cop


Cop, Copper
Ceap, Ceapadh (sounds like cop, copper; dh =3D h )
To stop, capture, catch, seize, control; (act of) restraining, binding;=20
(act of) putting into stocks or restraints. (Dineen, p. 179)
Ceap in Irish means "to seize or grab" as well as "to capture, control, and=
"lock up." =20
You can ceap (cop) an idea, a drink, or "a feel."=20
Belle is a young prostitute in O'Neill's 1930s comedy, Ah Wilderness. =20
BELLE: =E2=80=9CHe=E2=80=99s copped a fine skinful and gee, he=E2=80=99s har=
dly had anything.=E2=80=9D=20
(Ah Wilderness, p. 73)=20
Yank, a Brooklyn Irish merchant seaman and coal stoker, is the key=20
protagonist in two of O'Neill's early plays of the sea The Moon of the Cari=
bees, 1918,=20
and The Hairy Ape. 1922. =20

YANK (blinking at them): =E2=80=9CWhat the hell =E2=80=93 oh, it=E2=80=99s y=
ou, Smitty the Duke. I=20
was goin=E2=80=99 to turn one loose on the jaw of any guy=E2=80=99d cop my d=
ame, but seein=E2=80=99 it
=E2=80=99s you =E2=80=93 (sentimentally) Pals is pals and any pal of mine c=
=E2=80=99n have anythin=E2=80=99
I got, see?=E2=80=9D (O'Neill, The Moon of the Caribees, p. 540. {1918})=20=
In American "slang," the verbal Cop (Ceap, to seize) shape shifts to the=20
noun =E2=80=9CCopper=E2=80=9D (fig. "a seizer") meaning "a cop." =20

ROCKY: =E2=80=9C...Dey=E2=80=99re all licked. I couldn=E2=80=99t help feelin=
=E2=80=99 sorry for de poor =20
bums when dey showed up tonight...Jimmy Tomorrow was de last. Schwartz, de=20
copper, brung him in. Seen him sittin=E2=80=99 on de dock on West Street, l=
ookin=E2=80=99 at de=20
water and cryin=E2=80=99.=E2=80=9D (O'Neill, The Iceman Cometh, pp. 698-69=
Rocky the bartender and part time pimp fixes cops and coppers.
ROCKY: =E2=80=9CDem tarts, Margie and Poil, dey=E2=80=99re just a side line=20=
to pick up some =20
extra dough. Strictly business, like dey was fighters and I was deir manager=
see? I fix the cops for dem so dey can hustle widout gettin=E2=80=99 pinch=
ed.=E2=80=9D =20
(Eugene O'Neill, The Iceman Cometh, p. 580).

Do you Ceap (Catch) what Rocky's saying? Pimps fix cops with dough.
Etymological Anglophile "Echo Chambers"
Most dictionaries repeat the wing-nut tale that Copper and Cop are derived=20
from the =E2=80=9Ccopper badges" worn by police officers in the U.S. in the=
century. There is no evidence that police departments in the U.S. ever iss=
copper badges to police officers.=20
=E2=80=9CCop=E2=80=9D as a slang term meaning to =E2=80=9Cseize or catch,=
=E2=80=9D first appears in English=20
"slang" dictionaries in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Originally a=20
"copper" was a thief who =E2=80=9Ccopped=E2=80=9D (ceap'd) purses and valua=
bles. Later, in=20
London Irish slum (saol luim) slang when a thief was apprehended by the pol=
they were said to have been =E2=80=9Ccopped=E2=80=9D (seized, put into stoc=
The Irish word Ceap, meaning "to catch, stop, or bind" is derived from Old=20
Irish Cepp and cognate with Welsh cyff, Breton cyff, Latin cippus. (MacBain=
Gaelic Etymological Dictionary, 1982, Glasgow.)=20
One of these days Irish Americans will "ceap" (grasp that Irish and=20
Scots-Gaelic is under their tongue.=20
Daniel Cassidy
The Irish Studies Program
New College of California
San Francisco

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