Is the term Paddy wagon offensive? The slang term used to describe a prisoner transport van has long been used by Irish people and others but now a debate has started about its use.
Award-winning writer James Mulvaney considers the phrase offensive to the Irish, while the New York Times has defended the use of the term in a recent crossword. It is believed that ‘Paddy wagon’ comes from a time when a large number of New York policemen were Irish, rather than referring to Irish people being arrested, as some may believe.
An older phrase for prison van, Black Maria, has a dubious origin but could refer to a noteworthy black person who may or may not have actually existed. As most prison vans are no longer black, the term has fallen out of use. Paddy Wagon is also the name of a popular tourism company and most Irish people do not consider it offensive or even racially tinged.