One of the characters in a movie I'm watching is telling a story, about how his mother was murdered in front of him, by his own father. He says that he was found 3 days later by a truant police officer.

What does truant mean in this context?

a.wandering; straying. "her truant husband" (source google dic)

b. One who shirks work or duty. (source TFD)

  • 1
    I like both definitions! Feb 2, 2022 at 2:29
  • 7
    I would expect the phrase to be just "truant officer" rather than "truant police officer", but that may be to distinguish it from a social-services employee, who could also be tasked with investigating truancy.
    – Dragonel
    Feb 2, 2022 at 15:33
  • 10
    Really seems like a case of misplaced adjective. It's not the police officer who's truant, it's the students the officer is investigating. Realistically, it should be a "truancy police officer". Otherwise it's like calling a "homicide detective" a "homicidal detective" - a subtle but very important distinction. Feb 2, 2022 at 17:08
  • 3
    @DarrelHoffman Well, in common parlance everyone says: truant officer. What confuses me here is it says truant police officer. Which is not usual at all.
    – Lambie
    Feb 2, 2022 at 18:21
  • 2
    @Dragonel Yes, "truant officer" has a well-established and very different meaning from what is intended in the quoted passage here.
    – J...
    Feb 2, 2022 at 18:49

1 Answer 1


In this context, it would seem to mean a police officer who has special responsibility for locating children who are truanting from school, and ensuring that they attend school.

In the US, a school may employ a truant officer who is concurrently a constable. Their main role is to ensure that the children of the district are safe and attending school. The truant officer will go to places that children are likely to hide when they are truanting. Then they will detain (not arrest) the child and return them to school or home as appropriate.

So I understand that this child witnessed his father murder his mother. He was absent from school for three days, until he was found by a constable who had special responsibility for ensuring that children are safe and at school.

  • 5
    I wasn't aware of this usage, because afaik we don't have truant officers here in the UK, so would have interpreted it as an officer who was not performing his assigned duties at the time ("gone rogue"), but thought it was an odd phrasing. I think your explanation is more likely
    – Tristan
    Feb 2, 2022 at 14:44
  • 10
    I don't think I've ever heard "truanting" used as a verb like that.
    – Barmar
    Feb 2, 2022 at 14:56
  • 8
    Echoing @Barmar's comment. As far as I know, "truant" is used strictly as an adjective, at least in the US. The students are "skipping school".
    – jeffB
    Feb 2, 2022 at 14:58
  • 3
    Yeah, well, a truant officer is an officer who finds kids and makes them go back to school. It is hard to tell here without actually seeing the thing. We say "truant officer". Not truant police officer, and we don't have constables in the US.
    – Lambie
    Feb 2, 2022 at 18:20
  • 2
    @Lambie: We do have constables in the US, but their job description varies by state, and isn't the same as in the UK.
    – dan04
    Feb 3, 2022 at 0:08

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .