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Bobby,police officer.

They are the legendary polite and alarmingly unarmed men and women of Britain who enforce the law. But where and when did the common man start referring to a police officer as a bobby?

Good question, for which, it appears, there is no easy answer.

According to Michael Quinion, who runs the Web site WorldWideWords.org and provides citations and advice to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are two possibilities for the word’s origin.

The first is that Sir Robert Peel, who reorganized the London police force in the late 1820s, referred to the officers as peelers. However, the name bobby eventually supplanted peeler during that period for reasons Quinion cannot ascertain. Although, Bobby is obviously a derivative of Robert.

However, he does provide a second, perhaps more sinister, reason for the moniker.

It seems that bobby is an old English term for striking or hitting. Armed with only their clubs for protection and enforcement, it seems a plausible link. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary does allow bob to substitute for blow.

Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at: UKnews@mail.estripes.osd.mil

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