Mopery is a vague, informal name for minor offenses. The word is based on the 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. It has occasionally been put into use by police as a charge to bring when no other legitimate charge seems appropriate. It has also been used for satiric and/or comedic effect in books and films.
In 1970, in Columbus, Ohio, US, mopery was defined as “loitering while walking, or walking down the street with no clear destination or purpose”, and was used by police to stop and interview counterculture "hippies" who were regarded as unsavory. Some of those arrested were aggressively prosecuted by public prosecutor Karl T. Chrastan. 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" or "mopery with intent to gawk".
The word mopery has been used 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”. Similarly, in the 1984 comedy film, Revenge of the Nerds, mopery is defined as "exposing oneself to a blind person."
- "Mopery" at The Word Detective
- Safire, William. On Language: "Kissing and Telling About Kiss-and-Tell", The New York Times, 5 June 1988.