Thursday, December 6, 2007


Ever since I lived in Golden Gate park at the end of Haight St. in SF for a week, I have been interested in what people call police officers as slang, and what that says about their relationship with them. One of my fellow inhabitants in the park had the words "F*CK PIGS" tattooed on his knuckles. I also frequently heard "six-up" shouted right before people scrambled to hide their illegal possessions, followed by a police car cruising by to pick anyone up. "Six-up," I was told referred to the six lights in the siren on the top of the car. Then of course, there is "five-oh" which is originally a police radio code, which came into common parlance because of the TV program "Hawaii 50 [five-oh]." There are probably dozens more English terms for police (maybe hundreds if you count local variations from around the world) but I am more interested in what they are in other languages.
In French, the only two slang words I know of for this are "flic" and "cochon," which should be "cilf" and "chonco" in verlan (the french equivalent of pig latin, perhaps appropriately more sophisticated and complex). Instead "flic" becomes "keuf" which is apparently a parallel reconstruction to match the sounds of "meuf" for "femme," "teupo" for "pote," and "beur" for "arabe." I have heard plenty of examples of "cochon," but I don't remember any particularly of the verlan version, though unless it was in La Haine, a great french movie which goes into the banlieues of Paris to look at the climate of French race relations, which seem to be as much a powderkeg today as they were then. It is hard to say whether "cochon" is simply a calque of english "pig," picked up through TV, or if the idea that police officers are swine is just part of universal human consciousness. As for "flic," this is quite a common term, and may not even be considered slang. I wish I could tell the reader what it comes from... but I haven't heard of anything.
I am really interested in the Arabic slang terms though, as this has been a little more inaccessible socially. People either consciously self-censor candid terms around me about the authorities since I am so obviously an outsider, and they may not be sure which "side" I am on; or it could be a sub-conscious avoidance of more familiar register. So I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to some relevant terms today:

[bomba] "cops" roughly - بمبا
emprison?, round up - خبس
- الابيضspecial police intelligence forces

the scenario being described was like so:

شماشة 1 الى شماشة 2: تفقفق يا زول البمبا خبس
شماشة 2 الى شماشة 1:كيف! المراة ذي كان مع الابيض انا قت لك
شماشة 2 الى زول تاني: انت فرد والناس منقرد

shamasha 1 ila shamasha 2: tafugfug ya zul, al-bumba khabas!
shamasha 2 ila shamasha 1: kayf! al-marra dhi kan ma' al-abyadh ana gutt lek

shamasha 2 ila zul tani : anta farda wa-'n-nas mangarda

hoodlum 1 to hoodlum 2 : scram! the police are on the prowl!
hoodlum 2 to hoodlum 1 : How!? That woman must have been a spy!
... (running away)
hoodlum 2 to another dude: oh buddy, you are the only friend I can count on!


mlt said...

(second attempt)

French slang "cochon" for "pig" (referring to a policeman) is indeed a literal translation from English. Before American English started to have an overwhelming influence on French, the common slang word for French policemen was "les vaches" (the cows). "Cochon", in addition to meaning literally "pig", was also used as an adjective for "dirty" (physically or mentally). "Vache" was also used as an adjective qualifying a person who would play "dirty tricks", as well as such unfair and unjust actions.

John Cowan said...

Here are some theories suggesting a German origin, but what authority they might have, I can't say.

* Flic viendrait du mot flick, de l'argot des malfaiteurs allemands, attesté dès le XVIème siècle et qui avait le sens de "garçon, jeune homme".
* Flic pourrait également venir d'un autre mot allemand: Fliege, qui signifie "mouche", par transposition du mot d'argot français mouche, qui signifiait "policier" ; ce mot aurait été véhiculé par l'intermédiaire de la langue des Juifs d'origine allemande.
* Flic serait issu de la forme flica, qui signifie "claquer", qui serait une variante du latin fligere "battre" ou du germanique flinke, "frapper"; ceci faisant allusion au pouvoir qu'ont les policiers avec leurs armes.