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.
“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.
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