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Hey Matt:

My English friend was riding in my car recently when I was pulled over by the police. I had not noticed them, but Nigel did and exclaimed, “Cripes, the rozzers are after us!” I didn’t realize that “rozzer” meant police, so I drove another 1/4 mile before the blue & red lights helped me put 2+2 together. So, can you explain how something that sounds like an exotic fruit translates to a police officer?

— Jay

You might be surprised to learn that this slang term for the police goes back to at least the late 19th Century. The most accepted explanation is that it’s a punny play on the name of Sir Robert Peel, founder of London’s Metropolitan Police. Similar UK slang terms such as “bobbies” and “peelers” are more direct vamps on his name. To American ears, “rozzer” for “Robert” sounds like an awfully long stretch. But, it’s always good to remember that British people came up with “Jez” as a nickname for “Jeremy,” so there’s some precedent for inserting random z’s into people’s names.

Even with the connection to Peel, the origin of “rozzer” isn’t 100 percent certain. Some people have pointed out that it might be tied to “roosher,” which is another popular slang term from the 19th Century, but that doesn’t really help because the roots of “roosher” are even more obscure. Either way, “rozzer” isn’t the most popular name for the cops in England these days. You’re more likely to hear them called “the feds” or “the filth.”

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