“COP,” “FUZZ,” and “PIG” Explained
Since the terms, especially “PIG,” have been the subject of discussion here, it is often helpful to understand the etymology (origins) of the words:
From your friendly, neighborhood English major/writer:
(Remember, etymology is NOT an exact science.)
COP: Cop the noun is almost certainly a shortening of copper, which in turn derives from cop the verb. Copper as slang for policeman is first found in print in 1846, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The most likely explanation is that it comes from the verb “to cop” meaning to seize, capture, or snatch, dating from just over a century earlier (1704). As with many words, there are several stories floating around positing various origins, almost certainly false. The notion that cop is an acronym for “Constable On Patrol” is nonsense. Similarly, the word did not arise because police uniforms in New York (or London or wherever) had copper buttons, copper badges, or anything of the sort.
FUZZ: The origin of “fuzz” is uncertain. The expression arose in America in the late 1920s and early 1930s, probably in the criminal underworld. It never quite replaced cop. There are several theories about the origin of “fuzz”:
— American Tramp and Underworld Slang, published in 1931, suggests that “fuzz” was derived from “fuss,” meaning that the cops were “fussy” over trifles.
— A mispronunciation or mishearing of the warning “Feds!” (Federal agents). This seems unlikely.
— Etymologist Eric Partridge wonders if “fuzz” might have come from the beards of early police officers. This also seems improbable.
— Evan Morris suggests the word “arose as a term of contempt for police based on the use of ‘fuzz’ or ‘fuzzy’ in other items of derogatory criminal slang of the period. To be ‘fuzzy’ was to be unmanly, incompetent and soft. How better to insult the police, after all, than to mock them as ineffectual?” That explanation seems as good as any, and better than most.
— This slang term may be in reference to the sound of the field radios that police commonly use. It surfaced in Britain in the 1960s.
PIG: If you thought the term pig arose in the 1960s, you’re in for a surprise. The Oxford English Dictionary cites an 1811 reference to a “pig” as a Bow Street Runner–the early police force, named after the location of their headquarters, before Sir Robert Peel and the Metropolitan Police Force. Before that, the term “pig” had been used as early as the mid-1500s to refer to a person who is heartily disliked. The usage was probably confined to the criminal classes until the 1960s, when it was taken up by protestors. False explanations for the term involve the gas masks worn by the riot police in that era, or the pigs in charge of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
I know — not an “Ask a Cop” question, but maybe it will help answer someone else’s.