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I have often come across terms like London's finest, New York's finest, etc., intended to mean the police forces of the respective cities. I think in the case of Scotland Yard, the term even has some official currency. How did this usage originate? Was it sarcastic or propaganda?

It's hard to believe that the finest people of a city are its policemen, especially given how often popular tales involve thieves and outlaws as protagonists.

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    I've never heard of the Metropolitan Police (or the City of London Police) referred to as "London's finest". I live in the UK and, since so much of the country's news relates to London and the police are very often mentioned in the news, I'm sure I would have heard it in hundreds of news reports if it was at all common. – David Richerby Dec 21 '14 at 10:53
  • @DavidRicherby Selection bias at work, I suppose. For some reason, I have always associated that phrase with London. Perhaps because I have seen that phrase in some work of fiction, and considered that usage for the Metropolitan Police to be preeminent. – muru Dec 21 '14 at 10:57
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    Yeah, it was probably somebody saying "London's finest" by analogy with "New York's finest". It's not a phrase that's in common use. – David Richerby Dec 21 '14 at 11:01
  • @DavidRicherby Yes, the oldest reference to "London's Finest" I can dig up is this 1909 work, which makes we wonder where I read that phrase. I haven't read many modern works centred on London. – muru Dec 21 '14 at 11:08
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    My guess would be that "New York's Finest" was a cliche promoted by New York's Finest at some time in the past and it stuck. On rare occasions one hears "LA's Finest" or "Chicago's Finest", but it's more likely to be used sarcastically than as a complementary term. (And "New York's Finest" is quite often used sarcastically as well.) – Hot Licks Dec 21 '14 at 16:50
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In the case of "New York's Finest," Barry [Popik] has traced the term back to the 1870s, where it apparently first emerged in the form "the finest police force in the world," a phrase associated with George Matsell (police chief at the time), and possibly modeled on Civil War Major General Joseph Hooker's estimation of his troops as "the finest army on the planet." The general idea of New York's police being "the finest" had been asserted in print for several years by that point, so it wasn't surprising that eventually the tribute was codified in the phrase "New York's Finest."

http://www.word-detective.com/0806C.html

I've never heard the police in London referred to as "London's finest", and a search for that phrase results in must-see landmarks, expensive hotels, hairdressers, dance troupes and man-and-van services. But adding the word police shows the Metropolitan Police do (or have) used the phrase:

A career with London's finest

http://content.met.police.uk/News/A-career-with-Londons-finest/1260267625884/1257246745756

I don't think it's an official term in London, unlike New York and some other American cities.

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    That is confusing. How does 'X's finest' imply that X's finest is the finest of something in the whole world? After all, there is only one police force in a given city. – muru Dec 21 '14 at 9:05
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    Well, obviously NYPD are the best PD in NY because they're the only one. But you can still compare PDs from different cities in terms of policing abilities. But we shouldn't confuse original meanings with current meanings. What was first meant by X's finest is different to now. Word meanings change all the time. Now people generally mean they're the finest in that city. See also "The bravest" for the FDNY. – Hugo Dec 21 '14 at 9:25
  • I suppose there's the confusion. I always assumed it to mean the finest of the people in a city, rather than the finest of the police force(s) in a city. – muru Dec 21 '14 at 9:35
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    @DanBron that was my understanding, but it seems so outrageously false. – muru Dec 21 '14 at 14:25
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    @muru as far as I know. The overly simplified history is that some thousand odd years ago, William the conqueror was unable to take the place by force, so kind of gave up and took everything around it. Eventually a deal was struck, giving the City a special charter, and the idea of a special status granted to the City remains to this day, however in different forms obviously – specifically policing has always been one area where the City has its own jurisdiction. They don't share jurisdiction with the Met I don't think, but probably cooperate in some ways. – Marcus Stade Jan 13 '15 at 15:03
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In NYC, the police are "NY's Finest", the firemen are "NY's Bravest" and the sanitation workers are "NY's Strongest". ("Everybody wants to get into the act" - Jimmy Durante)

  • Hugo's link also mentions these terms. Everybody wants to get into the act is a TV show, I presume? – muru Dec 21 '14 at 15:34
  • @muru - no, it's a quotation attributed to Durante. – James McLeod Dec 21 '14 at 15:57
  • @muru - I'm sure "Everybody wants to get into the act" predates TV -- probably refers to vaudeville. – Hot Licks Dec 21 '14 at 16:53
  • @HotLicks possibly, but I didn't get how Oldbag is linking the quote with with the first sentence. Googling showed some mentions of a TV show. – muru Dec 21 '14 at 16:54
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    @HotLicks- Thanx for covering for me, I was @ work. As for the politicians, there are expletives, but no superlatives. – Oldbag Dec 21 '14 at 23:31

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