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I've just watched all six episodes of the BBC historical drama "The Trial of Christine Keeler".

It was marvellous for the way it presented London life of the 1960s - the lovely old cars, the suave John Profumo with a gold cigarette case and lighter, elegant house parties at Cliveden, and the slightly dated idiom and slang.

Christine, at one point says "It's the rozzers…", which took me back in time.

Why "rozzers"?

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    m.sandiegoreader.com/news/2013/jan/16/straight-rozzers has one theory
    – k1eran
    Jan 27, 2020 at 19:19
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    @k1eran I was going to add the suggestion that it was linked to Robert Peel then I clicked on your link. I'm glad to see that someone agrees with me. This would explain why it is (or more accurately was, I haven't heard it in the wild in a long time) a peculiarly British word
    – BoldBen
    Jul 10, 2020 at 1:41
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    @k1eran I'm not inclined to go along with the article's assrtion that a more up-to-date nickname for the British police is "the feds" or the "filth". The first I have never heard and the latter is considerably dated. Since then we have had "The Old Bill" . But quite where we are now I'm not sure.
    – WS2
    Dec 8, 2021 at 19:31
  • @WS2 I concur with your comment. You spurred me to looked up etymology of the old bill - that looks a tricky one to pin down!
    – k1eran
    Dec 8, 2021 at 22:42
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    @k1eran It is said (per Wikipedia) to have been based on a cartoon character from 1914-15 by Bruce Bairnsfather - but this character was a soldier. Use of the term for the police, or a police officer seems to start in the 1950s (OED has extensive entry) - and may have been connected to policemen depicted with an "Old Bill moustache".
    – WS2
    Dec 8, 2021 at 23:28

5 Answers 5

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GDoS suggest a possible origin from medieval French roussin:

Rozzer:

(also rawser, razzer, rosser, roz)

[? Rom. roozlo, strong or roast, a villain; B&L suggest rousse, roussin, a policeman (from Medieval. Fr. roussin, a warhorse or hunter)]

a police officer; also attrib.

  • 1888 [UK] Sporting times 26 May n.p.: Up walks a rozzer and buckles me tight [B&L].

  • 1956 [UK] ‘Charles Raven’ Und. Nights 148: The Surrey rozzers pride themselves on the efficiency of their cordon system.

World Wide Words has other suggestions, none of which appears to be conclusive:

A common supposition is that it comes from Hebrew khazeer or Yiddish chazer, a pig, but this is almost certainly a guess derived from the 1960s slang term.

Yet another candidate is the Romany ruzalō, strong. Some point to roosher, contemporary with rozzer, which is listed in Farmer and Henley’s Slang and its Analogues of 1903, but that merely transfers the problem to another word of which we know nothing.

None of these have any direct evidence to support them. Once again, it’s “origin unknown”, I’m afraid.

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    The OED is unsure, but thinks that the Robert Peel connection is more likely than the Romany.
    – WS2
    Jul 10, 2020 at 6:04
  • @WS2 - I don’t have access to the OED but I think the sources I cited (Green’s in particular) are reliable. It appears you are actually looking for a validation of what the OED says rather than possible alternatives.
    – user 66974
    Jul 10, 2020 at 9:36
  • I'm only telling you what the OED says. It is, after all, a fairly authoritative source. But the OED's conclusion is "origin unknown".
    – WS2
    Jul 10, 2020 at 17:50
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I had a look in Google books. There's an excerpt form "A dictionary of slang, jargon and cant" by Albert Barrere and Charles C Leland (see here) that reinforces the French roots already reported in another answer, and proposes a more tenuous possibility:

From the slang term to "roast", to watch.

So I looked up "roast" in the OED, and there is no mention of it meaning watch, but it does give it the meaning "to arrest":

1699   B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew   Roasted, arrested. I'll Roast the Dab, I will Arrest the Rascal. [Also in later dictionaries.]

So perhaps it does have some merit.

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OED:

rozzer, n.

Etymology: Origin unknown.

Various suggestions have been made as to the etymology of this word, including a shortening of the name of Sir Robert Peel (see peeler n.3 and compare bobby n.), or derivation from either French rousse (1827) or roussin (1811), both in the sense ‘policeman’ and of unknown origin.

A suggested derivation from British Romani ruzlō, ruzalō strong (variant of Romani zoralō) is less likely on formal and semantic grounds.

The entry has the note

This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, March 2011; most recently modified version published online December 2020).

As the origin still is not known, I don't think that EL&U can be of further help.

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ROZZERS means "Police." ROZZERS is a long-standing slang term for the police, which derives from the late 1800s. The term is highly likely to have been coined in the time of Sir Robert Peel, who established the first police force in the area of Rossendale, Lancashire (hence ROZZERS).

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Jan 19, 2022 at 13:57
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    The first police force was not established in Lancashire. Robert Peel was from Lancashire, but from Bury, not Rossendale. He established the Metropolitain Police Act, which created a police force in London. Jan 19, 2022 at 16:32
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I believe it originates as a Polari term - the language used by the gay community during 1940-60's in the UK when being homosexual was criminalised. Polari slang has many words for the police including: betty braclet, lillys and sharpy.

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Dec 8, 2021 at 10:47
  • Other answers say it was used in the 19th century, which makes it unlikely it came from 1940s slang.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 8, 2021 at 10:48

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