Green’s Dictionary of Slang

law n.

1. (UK Und.) a type of criminal activity [OF lei; ult. Lat. legem, law; synon. with lay n.3 (1)].

[UK]G. Walker Detection of Vyle and Detestable Use of Dice Play 18: Thus they give their own conveyance the name of cheating law.
[UK]Greene Notable Discovery of Coosnage in Grosart (1881–3) X 36: A table of the words of art, vsed in the effecting these base villanies. Wherein is discouered the nature of euery terme, being proper to none but to the professors thereof. 1 High law robbing by the highway side. 2 Sacking law lecherie. 3 Cheting law play at false dice. 4 Cros-biting law cosenage by whores. 5 Cony-catching law cosenage by cards. 6 Versing law cosenage by false gold. 7 Figging law cutting of purses, & picking of pockets. 8 Barnards law a drunken cosenage by cards.
[US] (ref. to 16C) E.H. Sutherland Professional Thief (1956) 224: The [16C] thieves developed a large number of specialities which at the time were known as ‘laws’ and at present as rackets.

2. (orig. US) constr. with the, the police.

[UK]Cibber Love Makes a Man III i: elv.: What is’t pursues you, Sir? clo.: An outcry of Officers; the Law’s at my Heels, Madam.
[UK]J. Kenney Spring And Autumn I iii: The law’s at my heels, and I never could run in my life.
[UK] ‘The Transport’s Complaint’ in Knowing Chaunter 36: I’m nail’d sure enough by the beaks and the law.
[UK]‘George Eliot’ Mill on the Floss (1985) II 306: He’d set the law on you – the law’s made to take care o’ raskills.
[US]‘Mark Twain’ Life on the Mississippi (1914) 496: Are you going to give him up to the law?
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘“Dossing Out” and “Camping”’ in Roderick (1972) 163: The Law came along now and then, and had a careless look at the unemployed in bed.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 88: A billy, wielded by the fearless hand of the Law, cracked him on the head.
[UK]Marvel 27 Oct. 383: Would the law draw a pistol on itself?
[UK]Wodehouse Psmith Journalist (1993) 294: The Law was now about to clean up the place.
[US]D. Heyward Porgy (1945) 19: Out with it. I don’t want to have to put the law on you.
[Aus]I.L. Idriess Flynn of the Inland 84: He caught the glint of a policeman’s cap: the steady eyes of the Law searched his face as he passed.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 266: All I could think of was that the law had nailed Mike and Mackey.
[US]Q. Reynolds Police Headquarters (1956) 167: ‘I’m the law. Put your hands up,’ he yelled.
[UK]R. Cook Crust on its Uppers 23: The law thought it had got him down to kiting.
[SA]Casey ‘Kid’ Motsisi ‘Riot’ Casey and Co. 82: ‘Come on, woman [...] I’m arresting you.’ She looked up. Beside her stood a khaki-clad, hefty man. The Law!
[US]C. White Life and Times of Little Richard 51: Then I got into trouble with the law.
[UK]N. Cohn Yes We have No 232: The law came knocking at 6 a.m.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 1: Suddenly a flashlight’s pointed straight in my face [...] It’s the law.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Viva La Madness 355: Need to know if the law are coming.

3. with the article deliberately omitted, a police officer; occas. a private detective.

[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 32: All you have got to do is to go ‘to law,’ and you will get it back and the one who takes it will be sent to prison.
[US]D. Hammett ‘$106,000 Blood Money’ Story Omnibus (1966) 334: You’re law, I’m thief. I’m staying on my side of the fence.
[US]E. Anderson Thieves Like Us (1999) 5: Now Laws jumping us here.
[UK]G. Gibson Enemy Coast Ahead (1955) 78: I stepped on the gas; how we missed the law I do not know. I remember his lamp going one way and his legs the other.
[US]N. Algren ‘Watch Out for Daddy’ in Entrapment (2009) 139: ‘This cop isn’t some two-hundred-pound flatfoot wearin’ a badge’ [...] ‘I’d know he was law all the same, Daddy’.
[UK]J. Curtis Look Long Upon a Monkey 186: They had had a long, silent time in the gloomy passage outside the C.I.D. office: Stringy and the two young law.
[SA]A. La Guma Walk in the Night (1968) 67: We saw some law going into your place. Heard a rooker got chopped or something.
[US]E. Tidyman Shaft 167: He had wondered if they were mob, not law.
[UK]S. Berkoff Decadence in Decadence and Other Plays (1985) 9: Odd judge MP and law sniff round the seamy door.
[US]UGK ‘Pocket Full of Stones’ [lyrics] Started payin off the laws so I wouldn’t catch a case.
[UK]K. Sampson Outlaws (ms.) 10: He won’t tell us who he’s paying off, whether there’s law on board.

4. in attrib. use of sense 3.

[UK]‘Raymond Thorp’ Viper 107: It was the easier sale of the stuff [i.e. cannabis] that was directly responsible for the extra law activity.

5. (US prison) a prison warder.

[US]C.G. Givens ‘The Chatter of Guns’ in Sat. Eve. Post 13 Apr.; list extracted in AS VI:2 (1930) 133: Law, the, n. Prison guard.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]Other Side of the Wall: Prisoner’s Dict. July [Internet] Laws: Correctional officers. (TX).

In compounds

law-car (n.)

a police car.

[UK]T. Parker Frying-Pan 140: They’ve got me sealed off in an alley [...] with a Law-car pulled across each end.
law-dog (n.) (also hound) [SE dog/-hound sfx; note dog n.2 (6a)]

(US) a police officer.

[US]‘Mark Twain’ Connecticut Yankee 482: A sort of raiment which was a surer protection from meddling law-dogs in Britain than any amount of mere innocence.
[US]‘Max Brand’ Pleasant Jim 303: If everything can’t be arranged the way I want – all the law dogs called off.
[US]W.R. Burnett Little Men, Big World 254: Looks like the hounds treed the coon after all. I guess that’s nature. The coon ain’t got a chance.
[US]M. Braun Judas Tree (1983) 71: You talk like he’s some tough lawdog.
lawman (n.) (also lawboy)

a law-enforcement officer.

[UK]D.P. Mannix Sword-Swallower 74: Knowing the hatred there is between the ‘lawmen’ and carny people.
[UK]C. MacInnes Mr Love and Justice (1964) 168: The law man had now departed.
[US]S. Ace Stand On It (1979) 64: Ed raised one hand and waggled all his fingers at the lawman.
[UK]L. Mantell Murder and Chips 69: [i.e. a policeman] Got turfed out because he lost his cool at a demo [...] Meet him sometimes on the road. Stops for a chitchat. Misses you lawboys.
[US]M. Braun Judas Tree (1983) 50: I was a lawman myself once!
[UK]Guardian Weekend 10 July 21: Four men were eventually charged with the first-degree murders of the two lawmen.
[UK]N. Barlay Hooky Gear 27: Once them words get in a lawmans head life become simple.
law shop (n.) [shop n.1 (1)]

a police station.

[UK]T. Parker Frying-Pan 82: If I had a drop too much [...] they’d have me up in the Law-shop.
[UK]J. Healy Grass Arena (1990) 111: When we got to the law shop over Euston way, they took me in the CID room.

In phrases