[Ads-l] "cop" < "copper": Etymology, etymythology, or Scotch verdict?

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 7 09:40:26 UTC 2017

HDAS sagely offers no opinion on this.

Observe that neither HDAS nor OED find  early exx. that say, "called
_coppers_ because of the large copper badges worn upon their breasts."

If the familiar "cop," v., had not been the obvious presumptive ety., I'd
expect to see an explicit explanation otherwise before the term became
thoroughly familiar.

Of course, if some mute inglorious Runyon had decided to call police
"coppers" because of their badges (and because he'd never heard the v.
_cop_), most of his admiring associates would presumably have assumed that
the verb was the true etymon.

As would most everybody else, unless advised to the contrary.

Ockham's billy suggests the verb is the more likely culprit (or as we say
today, "perp" < "perpetual criminal.")

Lighter's Law: The most colorful non-ludicrous etymology will always
recommend itself.


On Thu, Jul 6, 2017 at 9:26 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>

> From a review in the NYTBR of a new history of the New York Police
> Department:
> ============
> https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/books/review/law-and-
> disorder-nypd-bruce-chadwick.html
> Chadwick can be sloppy in his word choices. Early on he uses the
> descriptions “cops” and constables interchangeably, but then explains that
> the term “cop” was born later, when police officers got copper badges.
> ===========
> This suggests that author Chadwick and/or reviewer Jamieson assume that
> “cop” in fact derives from NYPD (or other) constables’ wearing copper
> badges.
> Now we know that the derivation of “cop” from “Constable On Patrol” is a
> classic faux-acronymic etymythology, right up there with POSH, NEWS, GOLF,
> WOG, and FUCK. But I always thought “cop” < “copper” was also generally
> dismissed, and that the standard wisdom is that it’s a
> conversion/zero-derivation from the verb “to cop” (‘take, capture, nab’).
> At first glance it seems as though the OED seems to allow for both
> possibilities, along with various cites going back to the 1840s and 1850s:
> Cop, n. 5
> Etymology: Compare cop v.3 and copper n.4
> However, on closer examination, *this* “copper” is not the metal used in
> badges (= copper n.1), but rather an agentive noun derived from the above
> verb:
> Copper n.4
> Etymology: apparently < cop v.3; but other conjectures have been offered.
> So that would mean a derivation along the lines of
> cop, v. ‘to seize’ > copper ‘one who cops’ > cop (by clipping)
> —which seems to suggest that the idea that “cop" has anything to do with
> the copper in badges is indeed an etymythological reconstruction—or is it?
> (The “other conjectures have offered” does leave the door open, to
> something.)
> AHD5 supports the same two-stage derivation, verb to agentive noun to
> truncated form:
> cop, v. >  copper ‘one who cops’ > cop, n.
> Can the derivation from copper badges be definitively rejected?  Is
> current slang “copper” a remnant from the earlier noun—
> 1846   Sessions Papers 16 May 39   I have heard the police called coppers
> before.
> (Seems like current “copper”, at least in the U.K., is used in the sense
> of ‘informant’ rather than ‘police officer’, judging from the OED cites.)
> Does anyone else know more about the genealogy of “cop"?
> LH
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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