The term paddy wagon (sometimes one word—paddywagon) usually denotes a large police vehicle used to transport multiple arrestees, and it sometimes refers to any large police vehicle regardless of its use.1 The term is of American origin, but its exact derivation is unknown.2
One theory about paddy wagon‘s origins is that the term came about due to the large numbers of Irish Americans on the police forces of some American cities.3 Paddy was once a slang term for Irish Americans, and although the term is rarely used anymore, some might still consider it offensive. Even if this theory about paddy wagon‘s origins is untrue, the prevalence of the theory leads some to believe that paddy wagon is offensive.
Still, paddy wagon is used often, even in some edited publications. Its continued use is probably due to the fact that there is no good alternative. Police van is vague, and prisoner transport vehicle is used specifically for vehicles used to transport prisoners from one detainment facility to another.
Nancy Pelosi is metaphorically handcuffed and tossed into a paddy wagon … [Wall Street Journal]
The protest – which incorporated an act of non-violent civil disobedience – not only landed Hector in an NYPD paddywagon … [Guardian]
When King moved to Atlanta, he was arrested during a protest and carted off in the back of a paddy wagon … [USA Today]
For good measure, a white paddy wagon pulled up under the butterscotch arches of the hotel’s front drive. [Los Angeles Times]