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Finger the perp in the heist

After suggesting yesterday that I might explore the vocabulary of cop speak, the estimable Peter Hermann has offered his own post on the topic at Baltimore Crime Beat. And he invites readers to submit their own favorites. Be his guest. You might want to suggest BOLO (be on the lookout), used as a noun for an alert.

It’s not only the police who favor lingo outside the stream of current conversational English. Journalists have an odd and lingering affection for dated slang (touched on previously at You Don’t Say here). I’m as fond of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as the next man, but I don’t think that the slang of the 1930s and the 1940s is quite the way to appeal to an audience in this century.

For example:

Bust (n.): For an arrest or a raid.

Cop a plea: For make a plea bargain.

Finger (v.): To identify or inform on.

Heist (n.): For robbery.

Loot (n.): For money or the proceeds of a robbery.

Nab (v.): For apprehend or arrest.

Perp (n.): For perpetrator.

Slammer (n.): For jail or prison.

Of course, you may want to use all of these and more in your screenplay to establish what middle-class suburban television viewers will take for gritty authenticity.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:15 AM | | Comments (6)


I just "heard" all of those in Bogart's voice. It was kind of nice.

"Roscoe" = gun ("gat")

listen up, you mugs!

"Collar" (v) - placed under arrest

"Apprehended" (v) - caught. If it was the guy that bailed out of the car that failed to negotiate the turn, it included repeated applications of the espantoon, first for the offenses related to the car, and then again for making the police run. Ahhhh, sweet justice.

"Espantoon" (n) - intricately carved and decorated piece of equipment carried by police officers of a long gone era. It was reminiscent of a mace, an ancient symbol of authority now seen principally at graduation ceremonies. In addition to the decorative carving, the espantoon was fitted with a leather strap through which an officer could fit his fingers and improve his grip on the equipment. The strap also contained a small metal swivel that permitted the officer to swing the espantoon and twirl it to the amusement of small children. Like its symbolic predecessor, the mace could also be used to inflict authoritative pain. Because of its long history, it rarely took more than a display of the equipment to obtain grudging compliance from the people talking to an officer so equipped. In part, due to the threatening appearance of the espantoon, it has been replaced. modern police officers carry a telescoping steel rod that carries no symbolic authority. It is used only to inflict pain. Progress?

"Caught a charge"

"Perp" can be a verb, too; Child Protective Services people use it all the time, as in "He perped on a little kid." It's normally a euphemism for sexual misconduct.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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