"common night walker"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 22 18:39:25 UTC 2009

Needless to say, you are correct, Joel. The law is very like unto the
military's "Conduct unbecoming ..." law, (jokingly?) said to cover any
offense from farting in ranks through murder in the first degree. Even
my trivial, first-one-that-popped-up-on-Google source gave examples of
men as well as women who has been busted for being "abroad in the
night," apparently gay guys arrested in the Fenway. Indeed, I got the
impression that this law gives the police the power to arrest *anyone*
*anywhere*, simply for being outdoors, as long as it's after sundown,
pace the (now in?)famous Prof. Gates.

But I merely scanned the source and I'm no lawyer. So, take that last
with a mine of salt.


On Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 9:58 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: "common night walker"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 9/21/2009 11:26 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
>>"common night walkers" - General Laws of  the Commonwealth of
>>Massachusetts: A common night walker is anyone who is abroad at night,
>>others to engage in unlawful sexual acts, such as prostitution
> I too used to think that soliciting was an essential part of the
> definition -- until I recently came across a 17th- or 18th-century
> prosecution in Massachusetts of some men for being out late.  No,
> they weren't soliciting -- for one thing, a characterization like
> "behavior tending towards unclean acts" was absent.  See the OED,
> "night-walker, n.", sense 1.a.:  "A person who walks around at night,
> esp. with criminal intentions; a nocturnal thief or miscreant."  From
> 1422; the "prostitute" sense (1.b) is relatively recent -- 1670.
>  Next time I'm down under Widener I'll try to find the wording of
> the Mass. law(s).
> Joel
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