• cop •
Pronunciation: kahp • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A policeman, a bobby.
Notes: Today's Good Word was once slang, but today it bears a sense of legitimacy along with its synonym, copper. The verb cop is still in the language, though today it is most often used in the sense of "take, capture" or "steal", as in 'cop a ticket to a sold-out game'.
In Play: All American kids play 'Cops and Robbers' as they grow up: "The Departed is a movie in which actors play Cops and Robbers all too realistically." Cops are enforcers of the law: "When Henry copped a candy bar in a soda shop, he was caught by a cop who delivered him home to his parents." The experience cured Henry of any criminal tendencies for the rest of his life.
Word History: Many people think that copper preceded cop because police uniforms for decades had copper buttons. Well, actually, policemen generally had brass buttons, but no one has ever referred to policemen as "brass". In fact, cop in the sense of "grab, nab, take" preceded copper; a copper was someone who copped people suspected of crimes. Cop comes from Middle French caper "to seize, grab, take", a direct descendant of Latin capere "to take". The root of this Latin word also went into the making of captura "catching", which shows up in the English borrowings capture and captive. Since the PIE sound [k] became [h] in Germanic languages, and [p] became [f], we are not surprised to find haft "handle", something we grasp, in English. Since voiceless [f] came to be voiced [v] between vowels in Old English, we can also account for Germanic have in English. (Now that Kathleen McCune of Sweden has copped our attention, we must thank her for recommending today's historically interesting Good Word.)