Coppers, the Old Bill, PC Plod and other police slang

By , April 15, 2010 1:58 am

Your average police constable is known by a host of slang names. “The copper, a member of the Old Bill’s local nick, is nicking a local toe-rag after his nark gave tipped him the wink…..”

This post is a (roughly) alphabetical guide to police-related slang in England. It’s based on those I’m familiar with, and therefore probably London-biased.

Blue and twos A police car with both blue lights flashing and siren going.

Bobby A fairly affectionate way of referring to a policeman – usually in the phrase “we need more bobbies on the beat”, meaning more policemen wandering round the streets keeping an eye on things.  The origin is the man Sir Robert Peel, who set up the Metropolitan Police at the start of the 19th century; Bobby is short for Robert.

Boys in Blue The police in general, what with them having blue uniforms….

Copper Like “cop”, and probably from the same origin. A copper is someone who cops someone, or grabs him.

Filth A London word for a police officer or police in general.

Grass A police informant. Also a noun, “he grassed me up”, meaning told the police about an offence. A supergrass was, in the 1980s, an IRA informant who turned Queen’s Evidence and gave evidence against other IRA members, and is now more generally used for a serious informant who gets a lot of nasty people nicked. The origin’s not entirely clear. Here’s a BBC article about two recent supergrasses in Northern Ireland.

Jam Sandwich An armed police response vehicle, which has huge red, orange and yellow stripes all over it.

Nick (noun) A police station – “he’s in Holborn nick” means that he is locked up in Holborn police station.

Nick (verb) / Nab Either to steal (he nicked it from the supermarket) or arrested, Q “What’s he been nicked / nabbed for?” A. “Assault”.  The origin of “nick” is a 15th century English word meaning a groove or notch. “Nab” probably has a common origin with “nap”, meaning to grab (as in “kidnap”).

(The) Old Bill Either an individual policeman, or several, or the police force as a whole. As in, “watch him, he’s Old Bill”, or “Let’s run, the Old Bill’s arrived”. The origin’s unknown – the Metropolitan Police’s website suggests 13 (!) possible origins here. For the last 20 years or so, there’s been a several-times-a-week ITV programme called “The Bill”.

PC Plod An uncomplimentary term for a police constable, suggesting someone plodding around slowly and not very usefully. May come from Enid Blyton’s Noddy books. Or may not.

Rozzers A London term for the police, fairly old-fashioned, now.

Snout – another term for a police informant.

Toe-rag A low-life who is probably a crook of some description. Often used in TV programmes at times of day when “little shit” is ruled out because children might be watching.

9 Responses to “Coppers, the Old Bill, PC Plod and other police slang”

  1. Now this is enlightening. I didn’t know several of these terms.

  2. jo oliver says:

    Wow, these are a lot more polite and kinder than American slang for police….lol. I heard of bobby, but that rest are all new to me. great post:)

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Loup Dargent. Loup Dargent said: History and traditions of England & Coppers, the Old Bill, PC Plod and other police slang [...]

  4. hels says:

    You would expect Australian slang to be the same as in the UK, including snout, grassed and nicked. But I have never heard bobbies used to mean Australian coppers.

    Plus here are some local additions:
    “Blue Heelers” is related to the Australian Cattle Dog. It reflects both the dogged personality and blue appearance of a police officer.
    “Booze Bus” is a police vehicle used in Random Breath Testing
    “Divvy van” is a police car for transporting crims
    “Watch House” = the cells at a large Police station

    I have loved thinking about this topic :) thanks.

  5. Sage Rine says:

    Just wanted to say you developed a great little website and I hope you know how nice it looks.

  6. glasgow guy says:

    in scotland a police known as the nick, cop shop, mount sodomy. police are called the scum lol

  7. [...] completely mind-boggled that you could track someone in this way.” Nice to see our bobbies are ahead of the [...]

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