The Meaning of Cop Out: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of cop out? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on term word cop out, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the term cop out mean?

According to Cambridge Dictionary of the English Language and Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary, as well as other dictionaries like Collins English Dictionary and American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the verb cop out and noun cop-out are American English idiomatic slang terms. As a verb, this term is used to mean to shirk some responsibility or to avoid doing something you should do because you are frightened, shy, or because it is difficult. As a noun, the phrase’s meaning describes the general notion in which a person cowardly avoids said task. For example, someone might make up a fake illness to avoid jury duty or some other unwanted responsibility or prospects. For someone who is lazy or who fears doing an inadequate performance of a task, copping out of a task may be their first thought. This is usually done in a superficial manner with a flimsy excuse. This is a very common casual slang term that you will hear frequently in American English. Try using this word of the day or other new words in a sentence today, or using flashcards or bookmarks to train yourself on the meaning of cop out!

While many different languages contain words that mean cop out, they do not use this same idiomatic expression. Other languages are more likely to use words that mean shirk, or to have their own idioms. It is fascinating to see how idioms change across languages. It is useful to know how to say cop out in different languages if you are traveling abroad as well as if you are trying to communicate with someone who does not speak English. This list of translations for the word cop out is provided by Word Sense.

  • Italian: scansare‎, sottrarsi‎, dare buca‎
  • German: drücken‎, umgehen‎, meiden‎, ausweichen‎, aus dem Weg gehen‎, kneifen‎
  • Swedish: smita från‎, undvika‎
  • Spanish: correr‎, evadir‎, escaquearse‎
  • Portuguese: esquivar‎
  • French: esquirer‎, esquiver‎, éviter‎, se défiler‎
  • Dutch: ontduiken‎, zich drukken‎, zijn plicht ontlopen‎
  • Vietnamese: ​trốn tránh‎
  • Greek: λουφάρω‎
  • Georgian: თავს არიდებს‎
  • Finnish: pinnata‎
  • Russian: сачкова́ть‎ (colloquial), ло́дырничать‎, безде́льничать‎, уви́ливать‎ (от обя́занностей), уклоня́ться‎ (от обя́занностей)
  • Icelandic: koma sér undan‎

How can the term cop out be used in a sentence?

The mainstream phrase cop out can be used as a noun or a verb in different contexts to refer to some evasion or action of evading, but not an adverb. In this first example, cop out will be used as a noun. Rick and Tina broke up recently, and she is supposed to meet him to get her knives back. His friend George shows up instead.

Tina: George, what are you doing here?

George: Rick asked me to come bring you your hold of spears. He said seeing you is too painful.

Tina: Wow, what a cop out; an infantile fantasy. It’s not ‘too painful’ – he just feels guilty for cheating on me with April.

Here, the p​hrase’s meaning implies that Tina believes Rick is lying. In this next example, the term cop out will be used as a verb. Tina made plans to go see a movie and get pizza with friends, but cancellations rolled into her inbox at the last minute. She decides to take hold of the situation.

Tina: Guys, I don’t understand why you’re all copping out at the last minute. I already bought the tickets.

Friend: We just feel like you’re putting us in the middle of your breakup with Rick.

Tina: It’s not like we’re going to have a chance meeting with him at the register! It’s not like he’s going to pop out during the climax of the film!

What is the origin of the term cop out?

According to Etymonline, the term cop out was in popular use by the year 1942 as both a noun and a verb to refer to the act of evasion as well as said cowardly escape. This is American English slang that could come from the phrase cop a plea, meaning to plead guilty to lesser charges. This term has been used since 1925. This probably comes from the British English underworld slang use of cop meaning to catch or grab, used since the 18th century. This phrase is often used figuratively as in cop a feel, a phrase meaning to grope someone that has been used in Britain since the 1930s. It is common to use different senses of cop aside from the sense of a policeman in different contexts. The term has been used for its modern meaning to mean evading an issue or problem since the late 1950s and 1960s. This term can be spelled cop out, cop-out, or the 1960s copout. The term cop out was used in the bohemian writings of Jack Kerouac in his novella Subterraneans, as well as by Duke Ellington; Time Magazine had a famous cover story called “Is God Dead?” which used the phrase cop out quoted by screenwriter Edward Anhalt, and Kenneth Allsop used the phrase as well, per BBC and Trevor Timpson.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the term cop out?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the term cop out. These are known as synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Cop out is a fairly casual phrase and will not always be appropriate to use in a formal or professional setting, so it is useful to know synonyms. Synonyms are also a great way to easily expand your vocabulary as well as to avoid repeating yourself. This lift of synonyms for the term cop out is provided by Thesaurus

  • stall
  • defense
  • sophistry
  • dodge
  • elusion
  • substitute
  • trickery
  • mitigation
  • quibble
  • fugiviteness
  • routine
  • evasiveness
  • subterfuge
  • prevarication
  • fudging
  • shunning
  • obliqueness
  • eschewal
  • pretext
  • run-around
  • vindication
  • disguise
  • shirking
  • shift
  • shuffling
  • evasion
  • makeshift
  • ditch
  • fancy footwork
  • song
  • excuse
  • lie
  • jive
  • fugivity
  • cunning
  • cover
  • regrets
  • dodging
  • equivocation
  • coverup
  • stonewall
  • artifice
  • evading
  • plea
  • rationalization
  • expedient
  • circumvention
  • trick
  • extenuation
  • equivocating
  • alibi
  • whitewash
  • slip
  • sophism
  • why and wherefore
  • ruse
  • apology
  • song and dance
  • cop-out
  • justification
  • fish story
  • story
  • semblance
  • grounds
  • stopgap
  • cleanup
  • cover story

There are also numerous different words that mean the opposite of the term cop out. These are known as antonyms and are another quick and simple way to expand your vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the term cop out is also provided by Thesaurus

  • rectitude
  • candor
  • honesty
  • plainness
  • bluntness
  • sincerity
  • straightness
  • openness
  • soundness
  • principle
  • frankness
  • veracity
  • impeccability
  • candidness
  • integrity
  • trustiness
  • virtue
  • ingenuousness
  • probity
  • directness
  • reputability
  • morality
  • incorruptibility
  • evenhandedness
  • equity
  • conscientiousness
  • fairness
  • justness
  • right
  • naiveté
  • simplicity
  • genuineness
  • unequivocalness
  • guilelessness
  • truthfulness
  • glasnost
  • honor
  • goodness
  • forthrightness
  • artlessness
  • responsibility
  • loyalty
  • uprightness
  • self-respect
  • outspokenness
  • trustworthiness
  • impartiality
  • confidence
  • faithfulness
  • scrupulousness
  • fidelity
  • straightforwardness

Overall, the phrase cop out is an idiom that can either be used as a noun or a verb. As a noun, the slang words refer to some evasion or avoidance. As a verb, it refers to the action of shirking a responsibility out of fear or laziness. The term that you might find in slang dictionaries likely comes from the British slang term cop which has its own origin aside from a sanctioned cop. It can be used with or without the hyphen, similar to commas – a fan of the Oxford comma might choose to use one, but it is not mandatory.