Where do cops come from?

This time travel began some hours ago when I wanted to make sure that my character in 1911 could refer to a policeman as a cop or perhaps a copper. Would this be an anachronism? It’s a lot of work to write a novel and one doesn’t want the effort gone to waste for mistakes like this. So, short answer, yes, the cop/copper terms have been around as slang for police from before 1800. The terms come from Latin capere (to seize) as in capture, although some sources give an Old English root for “to steal.” Anyway, taking something.

Now all this time I assumed the source was copper badges that policemen wore. That’s what my father told me and he knew everything. Or pretty much. He’d read the Encyclopedia Britannica of an evening, or stand for hours at our unabridged dictionary. He’d have me guess if words had Latin or Greek roots at an age so tender I didn’t even really get what “Latin” or “Greek” meant. How could he not be right about cop/copper? In fact, says my source severely, the presumed copper badges connection is a “folk etymology.” This is a blow.

I still think he knew almost everything even if (and this is a digression) he often had age-inappropriate teaching styles. I must have been 9, reading in the living room on a Saturday afternoon while he was taking a nap. The radio gravely announced a man apprehended for rape. I poked my father awake to ask what “rape” meant. “Carnal knowledge of a woman by force and without consent,” he said drowsily.

“Huh?”

“Look it up.” He turned over. Now why should I look it up? I knew all the words in the definition. “Carnal” was about meat-eating and the rest were easy so . . . hum .  . . rape was forcing a woman to learn about carnivores? Or finding out by force that a woman ate meat? This was so bad? Somewhat later, doing my weekly catchup of the “Day by Day With My Bible” Sunday school assignment, I came upon the “and Adam knew Eve” euphemism. So . . . ohhh. . . . that kind of knowledge.

What’s the point of this ramble? Live and learn, I guess. The truth comes out by various means eventually.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

Posted in WWWS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Announcements

Workshop on Point of View for the Knoxville Writers Guild, Sat. Feb. 18, 2017, 10am to noon

For more events and specifics, please click on Events.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts.

Join 2,154 other followers

%d bloggers like this: