[ kop ]
/ kɒp /
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noun Informal.
a person who seeks to regulate a specified behavior, activity, practice, etc.: Once we have the government dictating language usage, then we'll start getting language cops.
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Origin of cop

First recorded in 1855–60; shortening of copper2

Other definitions for cop (2 of 6)

[ kop ]
/ kɒp /

verb (used with object), copped, cop·ping.Slang.
to catch; nab.
to steal; filch.
to buy (narcotics).
Verb Phrases
cop out, Slang.
  1. to avoid one's responsibility, the fulfillment of a promise, etc.; renege; back out (often followed by on or of): He never copped out on a friend in need. You agreed to go, and you can't cop out now.
  2. cop a plea.

Origin of cop

First recorded in 1695–1705; of uncertain origin; compare cap (obsolete) “to arrest,” Scots cap “to seize,” ultimately from dialectal Old French caper “to take,” from Latin capere

Other definitions for cop (3 of 6)

[ kop ]
/ kɒp /

a conical mass of thread, yarn, etc., wound on a spindle.
British Dialect. the top or tip of something, as the crest of a hill.

Origin of cop

First recorded before 1000; Middle English cop(e), coppe “summit, peak; top (of a tower, building),” also “crown (of the head),” Old English cop(p) “tip, top, summit”; probably cognate with Dutch kop, German Kopf “head”; see cup

Other definitions for cop (4 of 6)


abbreviation Thermodynamics.

Other definitions for cop (5 of 6)


copyright; copyrighted.

Other definitions for cop (6 of 6)


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What else does cop mean?

A cop is an informal term for a police officer.

As a verb, cop is used in a variety of slang expressions meaning “grab” or “obtain,” from copping a feel on someone (not recommended) to copping out on going to a party (meaning “not going”) to copping to (meaning “confessing to”) eating the last slice of pizza.

Where did cop come from?

The many, seemingly unrelated, meanings of cop start to make sense when you know where the word comes from. Via French, cop ultimately comes the Latin capere, or “to seize, snatch, take, grab.”

Cop became slang for “seizing” in the early 1700s. This verb may have given rise to copper, thieves’ slang for “law enforcement” by the 1840s and shortened to cop by the 1850s. For much of its history, it was often seen as dismissive or derogatory, though most police officers are just fine with it in contemporary use.

Other theories root cop as an acronym for constable on patrol (unlikely) or as a reference to copper badges early policemen wore in New York (this probably did influence the term).

Cop has taken on many other senses in the 20th century. We can find cop a feel, or “to grope someone,” in the 1930s as well as to cop to something, or “confess.” We can find cop on, or “understand something,” in the 1940s, the same decade there’s evidence for cop out, or “give up.” In the 1950s, we can find to cop as in “to obtain illegal drugs.” We can find cop an attitude, or “assume an adamant stance,” in the 1970s.

Cop has many other senses in English outside the U.S. The more British expression fair cop, or “an admission of wrongdoing,” was notably used in the 1975 Monty Python and Holy Grail.

ACAB is a derogatory acronym that stands for All Cops Are Bastards and All Coppers Are Bastards, among other variants. Often used alongside ACAB is its numerical equivalent 1312, based on the letters’ alphabetical position (A is the 1st letter in the alphabet, etc.). ACAB dates back to the 1970s.

And why are cops called 12? The number 12 is sometimes used as code word or shorthand for cops, often in derogatory contexts, such as in the 2013 song “F*** 12” by the Atlanta-area hip-hop trio Migos. While some connect this 12 to 1312 of ACAB, others think this slang item—which indeed spread from Atlanta—comes from the police radio ten-code 10-12 (“stand by”) or the 1970s Los Angeles police procedural TV show Adam-12.

Who uses cop?

Cop is all about context. As a verb, it shows up in a great number of expressions variously dealing with “grabbing,” from copping feels, attitudes, and drugs. Other verbal cops bring us back to legal territory, like copping to crimes and copping pleas. A cop-out is also a common expression for an “excuse.”

Law enforcement officers use cop as a convenient, gender-neutral term that can apply across various agencies. Ice-T faced massive backlash in 1992 for his song “Cop Killer.” Ironically, he’s been playing a cop on Law and Order: SVU since 2000.

Cop movies are incredibly popular, including Beverly Hills Cop (1984), RoboCop (1987,) Kindergarten Cop (1990,) Cop and a Half (1993), Timecop (1994,) Cop Land (1997,) Paul Blart, Mall Cop (2009,) and our favorite, the 1991 cinematic masterpiece that is Samurai Cop. The reality TV show Cops started in 1989 but was recently canceled in the midst of the George Floyd protests in June 2020.

More examples of cop:

“Somebody called me on the phone / They said, “Hey, is Dee Dee home? / Do you wanna take a walk? You wanna go cop? / You wanna go get some Chinese Rocks?”
—Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, “Chinese Rocks” (song), 1977

“The five charged with acting as fake cops for years, dressed like real officers, had badges, handcuffs and guns, drove vehicles with emergency lights and would tell people they were the police, investigators previously said.“
—Dominic Adams, Michigan News, September 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use cop in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for cop (1 of 4)

/ (kɒp) slang /

verb cops, copping or copped (tr)
See also cop off, cop out

Word Origin for cop

C18: (vb) perhaps from obsolete cap to arrest, from Old French caper to seize; sense 1, back formation from copper ²

British Dictionary definitions for cop (2 of 4)

/ (kɒp) /

a conical roll of thread wound on a spindle
mainly dialect the top or crest, as of a hill

Word Origin for cop

Old English cop, copp top, summit, of uncertain origin; perhaps related to Old English copp cup

British Dictionary definitions for cop (3 of 4)

/ (kɒp) /

British slang (usually used with a negative) worth or valuethat work is not much cop

Word Origin for cop

C19: n use of cop 1 (in the sense: to catch, hence something caught, something of value)

British Dictionary definitions for cop (4 of 4)


abbreviation for (in New Zealand)
Certificate of Proficiency: a pass in a university subject
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012