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Why Are Police Officers Called Cops?

Police officers are often called “cops.” This is a form of slang, the origins of which are the subject of speculation and debate even among etymologists.

Some think that the “cop” is a reference to the badge, which is made of copper or tin. Others believe that it is the acronym of a more formal term of “constabulary of police.”

However, it is widely accepted that “cop” may have less to do with the official title or the appearance or gear of the police. Instead it has to do with the function of the policeman.

“Cop” can be traced to the Latin verb, capere. The meaning of this is to capture, as the word “cop” can mean to take down or to seize. This is what policemen are expecte to do—hunt down criminals and seize them. Another rootword, kapen, also means “steal” or “take.” This has Dutch origins.

Before the word “cop” was considered slang and had derogatory connotations. Policemen even used to object to the term and felt it was an insult to the service they did to the community. Over the years, though, the negative connotations of the word have disappeared and the men in uniform have accepted it. They certainly prefer it to other “nicknames” given to police officers, such as “the fuzz.” Sometimes another nickname “the heat” is given in reference to the entire police force.

Today the word “cop” is so accepted that it is even the basis of the name of a reality show about the lives and work of a police officer.

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