Posted by R. Berg on December 29, 2001 at
In Reply to: Railroad Bull posted by Jim on December 29, 2001
: The discussion of "screws" in prison got me wondering (which is why I like this site) about the origin of the railroad "bull". The bull policed the train, throwing freeloaders off, particularly during the Great Depression. Any input about where the term originated?
Dict. of Amer. Slang gives as one sense of "bull" "A policeman; a law enforcement officer of any kind, as a uniformned policeman, detective, plain-clothes man, F.B.I. agent, prison guard, railroad policeman, or the like. . . . Prob. earlier than c1800 . . . Orig. hobo and underworld use; since c1920 very common with all ranks of the underworld. Prob. of gypsy orig. from Sp. sl. 'bul' = policeman, reinforced by the image of a bull as big and aggressive. Often used in combinations to designate the type of law enforcement officer. Cf. cinder bull, fly bull, harness bull, yard bull."
- Railroad Bull ESC 12/29/01