Bobby, Barney, and Smokey the Bear....some slang words for police are as old as the hills, or at least as old as it’s been since the first cop pulled the first speeding motorist over for breaking the law.
Nicknames for cops are one of the constants of all countries. The names themselves are interesting, but how the monikers for cops developed over the world is a tale itself.
The United States has a rich history of nicknames for law enforcement personnel. Some are fun, some are complimentary and others are rude and uncalled for.
Some of the nicknames come from cartoons and television.
Five-O - One of the most famous television police shows from the 1960s was “Hawaii Five-O,” a detective program set in Hawaii where the head officer, Steve McGarrett (played by actor Jack Lord), made famous the line directed at his lieutenant: “Book ‘em, Danno!” Since then, it’s become common to warn fellow travelers of speed traps by saying to “watch out for Five-O,” using "Five-O" as a slang word for the police.
Smokey - The movie “Smokey and the Bandit” popularized the use of citizens band radios to warn other motorists of a police speed trap. The “Smokey” in the movie title is slang for police. The word comes from the Smokey the Bear character, who wears a hat similar to the one worn by state troopers.
Dick - Another popular cartoon term for cops, particularly detectives, is to call them a “dick.” That term comes from the Dick Tracy cartoons where the title character of the long-running cartoon is a detective.
Pig - This negative slang word was popular during the 19th century and then regained its popularity in the 20th century.
Cop - This slang word started in the 18th century when policemen were called "coppers," probably due to the copper content in the early badges. The word was shortened to "cop" in the U.S.
Gumshoe - This slang word is used in the U.S. for a detective who spends a lot of time on the city streets, potentially stepping on gum, looking for the suspect in order to solve the case.
The Man - This slang originated in the free spirited times of the 1960s and 1970s when the police were seen as a power group that wanted to suppress the activities of the times.
The familiar bobbies in Britain, with their tall rounded hats, their high pitched whistles, and their billy clubs, are well known in the lore of fiction and movies.
How did Britain's police acquire the nickname of bobby? There are two theories:
Brits have a variety of colorful (and sometimes not too flattering) nicknames for their police. Some slang words for police in that country are amusing as well.
Some slang words for police in Britain include:
Britain isn’t the only country with lovable (and some unlovable) nicknames for their guardians of the law.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are known worldwide for their horseback law enforcement. But Canadians have a nickname for them, too. The French term for Royal Canadian Mounted Police is Gendarmerie Royale du Canada,” or GRC as an abbreviation.
Jokesters used the GRC appellation to call the police the “Gravel Road Cops.” This is an allusion to the fact that the mounted police patrol in the forests and mountains, and in rural areas away from cities.
In Ontario, Canada, the local gendarmes are referred to as the “O Po Po.” This is a play on the acronym for the Ontario Provincial Police, or OPP.
In that same province of Canada, the local constables are nicknamed PC, another play on the wording of “provincial.”
These are just a handful of the slang words for police in existence today.