an exercise in miscellany

Paddy Wagon

In history, words & phrases on October 25, 2011 at 6:52 am

The word paddywagon is of American origin. The precise origin of the term is uncertain and disputed, though its use dates back to at least the beginning of the 1900s. There are at least three theories as how the phrase originated.

  • The most prevalent theory is based on the term “Paddy” (a common Irish shortening of Patrick), which was used (sometimes as derogatory slang) to refer to Irish people. Irishmen made up a large percentage of the officers of early police forces in many American cities. Thus, this theory suggests that the concentration of Irish in the police forces led to the term “paddywagon” being used to describe the vehicles driven by police.
  • An alternative theory is similarly based on the term “Paddy” but states that the term arose due to the high crime level among Irish immigrants.
  • The final theory holds that the name originates from the padding used on the inside of police horse-drawn carriages to prevent injury; this last is regarded by lexicographers as an example of folk etymology.

Paddywagon

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