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Long arm of the law

Posted by Lewis on May 08, 2006

In Reply to: Long arm of the law ends in a heavy hand? posted by RRC on May 08, 2006

: : : what does, "heavy hand of the law" mean specifically?

: : : thanks

: : traditionally, it refers to the act of being arrested for wrongdoing - the heavy hand of a policeman on your collar or shoulder. it was tradtional for arrests to be made by the officer placing a hand upon the shoulder of the subject and stating the reason for the arrest. later, it became a requirement that the person was 'cautioned' as to their right not to incriminate themselves and so the officer would usually recite the caution with the hand on the shoulder of the suspect.
: : if a suspect was struggling or trying to flee, the policeman would often hang on to the person by their shirt-collar and so to arrest somebody was also nicknamed 'to collar' a suspect.

: : it was not the law that the hand had to be laid on the arrested person, but it became commonplace as it also made it clear which person was being arrested.

: : the policeman's hand of arrest felt 'heavy' even if not forcefully applied.

: : L

: Isn't this a conflation of 2 idioms? "The long arm of the law" and "with a heavy hand"/"heavy-handedness" (^_^)

'the long arm of the law' would seem to come from the same practice as to arresting a suspect - implying that even if the perp thinks they have got away, they may still get arrested when the law catches up with them. 'heavy-handed' is a separate idiom, unrelated to the arrest metaphor. you can also have heavy-lidded of eyes and heavy-legged. heavy-handed is suggestive of clumsiness and a lack of finesse, thus it is a metaphor used of an over-reaction and indeed used in respect of policing, but not by any means exclusively.

stong arm tactics - deliberate heavy handedness
long arm - the long game - implication of reach
wrong arm - used as a play on 'long arm' when talking about police mistakes

and nobody has yet mentioned police balls.