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Historical Origins of English Words and Phrases

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cop [Jul. 2nd, 2008|08:09 pm]
Historical Origins of English Words and Phrases


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cop, n. & v. [kop, kŏp]
-The person who requested this asked for the etymology for both the police officer and grabbing definitions. So, as for the former, cop was first recorded describing a police officer in 1859 C.E.. There are two theories as to its etymology. The first says it was a shortening of copper, a slightly older term with the same meaning. Copper was a synecdoche using the copper-covered buttons or shields (now obsolete) of a police officer as a symbol for the job (note that another slang term for officers is the brass.) Prior to this, copper was used as a verb for 'to cover, coat, sheathe in the metal copper.' The second theory says it comes from the earlier definition of the slangy verb cop 'to grab, snatch' that is often used in the phrase to cop a feel (1935). As a verb, cop originated in Northern Britain in the early 1700's. At that time it meant 'to capture, catch, seize' and was likely a variant of the now obsolete cap 'to arrest,' recorded in 1589. Cap was borrowed from Middle French caper 'to seize,' which came either directly from Latin capere 'to take' or through the Sicilian Italian dialect capere, with the same meaning.

[User Picture]From: bluepickle
2008-07-03 05:56 am (UTC)
You are so full of win! Lovely lovely lovely! Thanks a ton!!! I had heard rumor of that being why for police officers, but the other I hadn't even an inkling! Thanks again!
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[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-07-03 04:31 pm (UTC)
hahaha, awesome! you're very welcome :)
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[User Picture]From: pipetti
2008-07-03 09:01 am (UTC)
Interesting. I bet yours is right, and my fifth grade teacher telling us it was an acronym for Constable On Patrol, was probably wrong, since yours sounds like a real etymology.

Have you ever heard of it being an acronym?
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[User Picture]From: sventhelost
2008-07-03 12:44 pm (UTC)
I'd never heard of that, but one thing people don't seem to realize is that, in general, acronyms becoming the names for things is a pretty recent thing, or are very rare if they occur before the 20th century.
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[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-07-03 04:34 pm (UTC)
acronyms definitely travel faster than people expect, but i didn't see any reference to an acronym being at the root of this word's origins.
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[User Picture]From: jenonthebeach
2008-07-03 04:21 pm (UTC)
I love this! I have always wondered about it, that and "Old Bill" referring to cops in England.
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[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-07-03 04:39 pm (UTC)
i just briefly looked up 'old bill' and it seems that there are several theories for it's etymology. the most popular one is that the founder of the mets in London was named William Peel, but others claim that his name was Robert instead. another theory is that there was a time when the city registered all fire, ambulance, and police vehicles under BYL, which became Bill after a few years of use. it seems that 'old bill' was first in use at least by 1950.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-07-03 07:03 pm (UTC)
oh no kidding, that's awesome. thanks for researching that for me, it's always driven me a bit mad wondering what it meant! :)
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[User Picture]From: iatrogenicmyth
2008-07-04 12:46 am (UTC)
I find it interesting that "cop" or "copping" is also used as a verb to describe the process of seeking out, obtaining, and purchasing drugs.
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[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-07-04 07:16 pm (UTC)
maybe that's an extension of the 'snatching' definition? i'd never heard that use before, but anyone who knows me will tell you how little i know about drugs :(
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