Gendarmes et policiers
Yesterday there was some discussion of the police at the French Conversation Group – one of the members is a former policeman. We use the word policier, but later I remembered that another French word for policeman is gendarme, and it suddenly dawned on me that gendarme probably comes from gens d’armes (armed man). I checked this today and it’s right. It’s not something I’ve really thought about before, but when I did think about it, it seemed so obvious. Do you find that with words sometimes?
According to Reverso, French country police officers are called les gendarmes, but those in towns are called les agents de police or les policiers. A community police officer is un îlotier and a traffic police officer is un agent de la circulation.
According to the OED and the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word police comes from the Middle French police (public order, administration, government), from the Latin polītīa (citizenship, political organization, government), which is also the root of policy, politics, politican, etc. and comes from the Ancient Greek πολιτεία (politeia – citizenship, government, administration) from πολίτης (polites – citizen) from πολίς (polis – city, state), from the Proto-Indo-European *p(o)lH- (enclosed space, often on high ground).