Mopery is a vague and obscure legal term, used in certain jurisdictions to mean "walking down the street with no clear destination or purpose". Like loitering and vagrancy laws, it is sometimes used by law enforcement to detain individuals seen as "unsavory", as the police believe they have prevented them from committing a clearer or more dangerous crime.

In 1970, in Columbus, Ohio, mopery was defined as "loitering while walking, or walking down the street with no clear destination or purpose", and was used by police to harass counterculture "hippies" who were regarded as unsavory. Some of those arrested were aggressively prosecuted by public prosecutor Karl T. Chrastan.

The word "mopery" has been used in this sense by authors Thomas Pynchon (Gravity's Rainbow) and Dashiell Hammett (The Thin Man), among others, for whom it is usually a comic accent. In Catch 22, (Joseph Heller, 1961), the mildly rebellious Cadet Clevinger is court-martialed by three angry officers, who accuse him of "breaking ranks while in formation, felonious assault, indiscriminate behavior, mopery, high treason, provoking, being a smart-guy, listening to classical music, and so on."

In discussions of law, "mopery" is used as a placeholder name to mean some crime whose nature is not important to the problem at hand. This is sometimes expanded to "mopery with intent to creep."

The word is based on verb "to mope," which originally meant "to wander aimlessly"; it only later acquired the overtones of "bored and depressed." The word "mope" appears to have first been used in the 16th century, and appears in Shakespeare's works.

Exposing oneself

The 1944 comic novel Low Man on a Totem Pole by H. Allen Smith contains this line: "The girls stop at nothing short of mopery to get in the papers, mopery being the old English misdemeanor of exposing oneself in front of a blind man on a public highway."

This may have been the source for similar definitions in later works:

  • Woody Allen claims he was convicted of mopery in the 1969 film Take the Money and Run and claims it means "exposing yourself to a blind man."
  • In the 1973 film The MacKintosh Man, a convict claims to be incarcerated for mopery, explaining that it means that he "exposed himself to a blind person."
  • Mopery was explained in an episode of the 1975-85 television show Barney Miller as "exposing oneself to a statue or blind person."
  • In Robert Bloch's short story "The Unforgivable Sin", mopery is the titular indiscretion.
  • In the 1984 film Revenge of the Nerds, a suspect is arrested for mopery, defined as "exposing yourself to a blind person."
  • Kurt Vonnegut further described mopery in the 1996 novel Timequake: "Mrs. Wilderson suspected plagiarism. Zoltan confessed, thinking it was a funny rather than serious thing he’d done. To him, plagiarism was what Trout would have called a mopery, ‘indecent exposure in the presence of a blind person of the same sex.’”
  • Former mob boss John Gotti was known to make fun of some of his dimwitted associates saying: "He's an imbecile. And you gotta see the charges. Malicious mopery. Possession of brains with intent to use."


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