Early in the history of this blog, my entries were all inspired by some impressive work of literature or political analysis I was reading. Now that I’ve had my second child, all my words seem to come from television shows.
I watched BBC America’s Copper this weekend, and for a fleeting moment thought that copper, the slang term for a police officer, would be a great word to look into. Quickly, I dispelled the idea. Obviously it was a reference to the metal appearance of…Come to think of it, what? No one would have thought the badges were made from copper.
A brief online search showed that other people thought it was a reference to the copper buttons on their uniforms. Another idea discussed by snopes.com was that copper comes from cop, which was an acronym for “constable on patrol.” Problem is that the term dates back to the 1840s, and the use of acronyms to form slang words is a far more modern convention.
The OED is not entirely confident but posits that the origin comes from the verb cop, meaning to seize or take hold (from the French caper). Police arrested people, hence they were coppers or cops.
The term was a derogatory one from the start, and the link to the metal was not all together unfounded. The Manchester Courier reported that people would harass officers by holding out copper coins whenever they walked by.
I also learned that copper was also a verb meaning to turn police informant, as in “Johnny coppered on his mates when he realized that he would be caught.”