20 Slang Terms for Law Enforcement Personnel
A variety of more or less colorful colloquialisms referring to police officers and similar authority figures have developed in American English, sometimes inspired by other languages. Here is a list of such terms.
1. barney: This gently derogatory term refers to Barney Fife, a bumbling small-town deputy sheriff in the classic 1960s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show.
2. bear: This term, from truckers’ slang, alludes to a style of hat worn by some law enforcement personnel—one that resembles the one worn by fire-safety icon Smokey the Bear. (See also Smokey.)
3. the boys in blue: This folksy phrase refers to the frequent use of blue as the color of a police officer’s uniform—and harks back to a time when only men could become police officers.
4. bull: a term prevalent in the first half of the twentieth century, primarily referring to railroad police but pertaining to regular police officers as well and alluding to the aggressiveness of these officials.
5. cop: A truncation of copper from British English usage, referring to someone who cops, or captures.
6. dick: A derogatory abbreviation of detective.
7. federales: Originally a Spanish term for federal police in Mexico, but jocularly used in the United States to refer to police in general.
8. the feds: A truncation of federal, referring to federal law enforcement personnel.
9. five-O: A term for police derived from the title of the television series Hawaii Five-O, about a special police unit by that name.
10. flatfoot: A reference to a police officer, with several possible origins, including the association that police who walked a beat supposedly would get the medical condition of flat feet.
11. fuzz: Originally a British English term referring to felt-covered helmets worn by London police officers, later borrowed into American English.
12. G-man: A term (derived from “government man”) from the mid-twentieth century, referring to FBI agents.
13. gendarmes: Originally a French term for rural police officers, borrowed into American English as jocular slang.
14. gumshoe: A term alluding to soft-soled shoes worn by detectives that are more comfortable than hard-soled shoes and/or enable them to follow suspects surreptitiously.
15. the heat: A reference to the pressure that law enforcement officials apply to suspects.
16. the law: A collective term for law enforcement.
17. the man: A term alluding to the imposing authority of law enforcement personnel.
18. pig: A derogatory term dating back to the 1800s that fell into disuse but was revived during the civil rights era.
19. po-po: A reduplicative term referring to police officers.
20. Smokey: A term for law enforcement personnel, derived from an association of the style of hat worn by some state troopers with the one worn by Smokey the Bear.
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