(A). Slang for a policeman; so called from Sir Robert
Peel, who reconstructed the police system. Bobby, being the
nickname of Robert, is applied to the same force. (See Bobby.)
It is an extraordinary circumstance that this word, now applied to
a policeman or thief-catcher, was in the sixteenth century applied to
robbers. Holinshed, in his Scottish Chronicle (1570), refers to
Patrick Dunbar, who “delivered the countrie of these peelers.” Thomas
Mortimer, in his British Plutarch; Milton, in his Paradise
Regained (book iv.); and Dryden, all use the word “peeler” as a
plunderer or robber. The old Border towers were called “peels.” The two
words are, of course, quite distinct.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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