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Posted by Bruce Kahl on February 23, 2000

In Reply to: COP posted by Mary on February 23, 2000

: Hello again, Thank You for your reponse re: GOP.
: I'm not trying to be funny but I would also like to ask about "COP" referring to a policeman.

The very earliest relation in English is cap, in sense of 'to arrest' or 'to seize', found in two examples around 1600 and also found in Scots. The form cop, probably a dialectal variant, first appears in 1704 in a slangy sense, although there's a gap of 140 years until the next known example. The word becomes relatively common in the 1850s. This long gap could mean that the 1704 example is a coincidence, unrelated to the recent word; it more likely means that the word was not in common written use until the nineteenth century.

The two likely possibilities for cap are that it's from Dutch kapen 'to take or steal', of Germanic origin; or that it's from dialectal Old French caper 'to take', ultimately from Latin capere. There's no convincing basis for preferring either of these origins.

The noun cop 'a policeman'is related to this. The 1844 example of cop means 'to arrest', and by the 1850s we had evidence of copper 'a policeman', which surely comes from this cop and the agentive suffix -er. Cop, also found in the 1850s, is just a clipping of copper. The word copper does not come from the fact that policemen had prominent copper buttons on their uniforms, and cop does not come from "Constable On Patrol," or any other acronym.