Why Is A Police Officer's Baton Called a Billy Club?

kris krüg, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
kris krüg, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

For centuries, authoritarians have sought to exert control over their fellow humans in a variety of ways. When non-lethal force is desired, police have traditionally dispensed a billy club, a wood or synthetic-material bludgeon that can diminish one's enthusiasm for breaking the law. The tool has been known by other names—a nightstick, a baton, a mace, a truncheon—but billy club is a label that appears to have stuck.

So, where did the name came from? Did anyone named Billy swing one in an attempt to restore order? History offers up a couple of possible explanations.

A actor dressed as an English policeman, circa 1880.
A actor dressed as an English policeman, circa 1880.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1829, Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel formed London's first police department. Patrolling the city's streets, the officers (who were also known as "bobbies"—as in Robert's men) were armed only with a billy club, a solid stick that could be deployed in a variety of ways, not all of them harmful. The sight of officers twirling the sticks could act as a preventative measure for would-be criminals or help someone who needed assistance to spot an officer. If a patrolman needed help, the stick could be rapped on the ground or against a pipe to summon colleagues to the scene.

In a physical confrontation, the billy club could help ward off attacks or assist an officer in restraining a suspect. Used offensively, it spared the hands any damage in a striking exchange. The use of the billy club soon spread to American cities like New York and Boston. Some officers decorated their billy clubs with symbols, coats of arms, or their initials.

Old police batons on display at London's Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre.
Old police batons on display at London's Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre.
Bill Smith, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The term likely came from the slang for crowbar. A "billy club" is what burglars called their prying tool of choice. It could have also been a play on the term "bully club," which has a slightly more involved etymology across the pond.

In the early 1800s, students at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut appointed a "senior bully," or captain of the college, who was granted possession of the "bully club," a ceremonial stick that indicated their position in the hierarchy of the school. Yale lore has it that the "bully club" was named for the time a student got into a fight with a sailor and took the weapon from him. Celebrated for standing his ground against a rough man of the seas, the student's seized bully club became a school tradition.

In some areas, the billy club has taken on regional affectations. In Baltimore, police wield a long stick called an espantoon, named after the spontoons carried by members of the Roman legion. In New York City, defensive batons with a side handle dubbed PR-24s were introduced in 1999. Overall use of the clubs has declined in recent years in favor of other non-lethal weapons like Tasers and pepper spray. Advocates of the billy club say that targeting bony prominences and nerve clusters of a perpetrator is better than drawing a weapon in some situations.

No matter what name it goes by, it's likely the club will remain a fixture of law enforcement personnel for a long time to come.

This Innovative Cutting Board Takes the Mess Out of Meal Prep

There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
TidyBoard, Kickstarter

Transferring food from the cutting board to the bowl—or scraps to the compost bin—can get a little messy, especially if you’re dealing with something that has a tendency to roll off the board, spill juice everywhere, or both (looking at you, cherry tomatoes).

The TidyBoard, available on Kickstarter, is a cutting board with attached containers that you can sweep your ingredients right into, taking the mess out of meal prep and saving you some counter space in the process. The board itself is 15 inches by 20 inches, and the container that fits in its empty slot is 14 inches long, 5.75 inches wide, and more than 4 inches deep. Two smaller containers fit inside the large one, making it easy to separate your ingredients.

Though the 4-pound board hangs off the edge of your counter, good old-fashioned physics will keep it from tipping off—as long as whatever you’re piling into the containers doesn’t exceed 9 pounds. It also comes with a second set of containers that work as strainers, so you can position the TidyBoard over the edge of your sink and drain excess water or juice from your ingredients as you go.

You can store food in the smaller containers, which have matching lids; and since they’re all made of BPA-free silicone, feel free to pop them in the microwave. (Remove the small stopper on top of the lid first for a built-in steaming hole.)

tidyboard storage containers
They also come in gray, if teal isn't your thing.
TidyBoard

Not only does the bamboo-made TidyBoard repel bacteria, it also won’t dull your knives or let strong odors seep into it. In short, it’s an opportunity to make cutting, cleaning, storing, and eating all easier, neater, and more efficient. Prices start at $79, and it’s expected to ship by October 2020—you can find out more details and order yours on Kickstarter.

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Do Politicians Need a Musician's Permission to Play One of Their Songs at a Campaign Event?

Dyana Wing So, Unsplash
Dyana Wing So, Unsplash

Whether it’s the songwriter, the performer, or the recording label, someone always owns the rights to a song. Whether or not one needs permission to play that song depends a lot on the circumstances. A DJ at a wedding doesn’t need to worry about any consequences for playing Peter Gabriel's “In Your Eyes” or The Righteous Brothers's “Unchained Melody.” Sports arenas can pipe in the Rolling Stones's “Start Me Up” without a release.

In the world of politics, however, campaigns and rallies that rely on music to stir up crowds often come under fire for unauthorized use. What’s the reason?

According to Rolling Stone, it’s not typically an issue over copyright, though using a song without permission is technically copyright infringement. If a song is played in a public venue like a stadium or arena that has a public performance license, no permission is needed. The license is typically granted through a songwriters’ association like the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). Even so, ASCAP still recommends [PDF] that political campaigns seek out permission from the musicians or songwriters, as these licenses exclude music played during conventions or campaign events.

Additionally, most artists aren’t concerned with their music being played at a wedding or sporting event. It is, after all, a form of free publicity and exposure, and no one is really making any substantial amount of money from their work. But the political realm is different. Because artists might have differing political beliefs than a candidate using their music, they sometimes grow concerned that use of their material might be construed as an endorsement.

That’s when artists can begin to make noise about wanting politicians to stop playing their music. In this instance, they can object on the basis of their Right of Publicity—a legal argument that covers how their image is portrayed. They can make the assertion that use of their work infringes on their right to not be associated with a subject they find objectionable. Other arguments can be raised through the Lanham Act, which covers trademark confusion (or a False Endorsement), which addresses the implication an artist is endorsing a political message if their music is used.

In 2008, for example, Jackson Browne won a lawsuit against John McCain and the national and Ohio GOP when the McCain campaign used Browne’s song “Running on Empty” in ads attacking Barack Obama over gas conservation.

Even if the musician isn’t supportive of a candidate, it’s not always advisable to take such action. A contentious legal confrontation can often result in more publicity than if a musician simply let the campaign continue uninterrupted. Other times, recording artists feel strongly enough about distancing themselves from a message they disagree with that they’ll take whatever steps are necessary.

The bottom line? More often than not, a song played during a campaign isn’t there because an artist or label gave their permission. And unless the artist strenuously objects to the campaign message and is willing to get into a legal tussle, they probably can’t do a whole lot to stop it.

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