It isn’t the cough

My father used to say:

It isn't the cough that carries you off; it's the coffin they carry you off in.

I think of that every time I find myself coughing pretty much continually for a span of multiple days, as I've been doing lately.

Also of this joke, again from my father, ideally to be told at such frantic speed that listeners don't really have time to react until it's over:

There's a hearse going up a steep hill, and it hits a bump and the back door flies open and the coffin inside falls out the back and starts sliding down the hill, faster and faster, and at the bottom of the hill it jumps the curb and plows through the front door of a drugstore, and slides the length of the store until it slams to a stop against the back counter, and the coffin lid pops open and the guy inside sits up and says to the pharmacist, "Doctor, doctor, give me something to stop this coffin!"

I went Googling to see whether I'd posted that somewhere before, and instead found an unrelated but cute "shaggy puppy story":

A squirrel was sitting on a pine tree one day when she saw a cow climbing the tree.

"Hey, cow," said the squirrel, "why are you climbing this tree?"

"I want to eat some apples," said the cow.

"But this is a pine tree!" yelled out the squirrel.

"I know," replied the cow. "I brought my own apples."

While I'm jumping around randomly, I may as well ask an unrelated question. Does anyone know the origin of the phrase "Mopery with intent to gawk?" I first encountered it long ago, but I have no idea where it comes from.

4 Responses to “It isn’t the cough”

  1. Vardibidian

    Mopery, of course, is like vagrancy for half an hour, loitering really, an actual offence in many places. It’s a perfect way to pick up and bring in a troublemaker who isn’t actually committing any crimes, harass the fellah, and let him go. It also can be added on to the list of trumped-up charges when the police are gettin’ down, cf. the great Dashiell Hammett in The Thin Man, where Nick challenges the cop to arrest him for “for kidnapping, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and mopery”.
    As with loitering, there can be a separate category of loitering with intent (for real law enforcement, this would be, say, waiting by an ATM for somebody to rob). Since the point of referring to mopery is the joke of making the so-called crime as peaceful and law-abiding as possible, mopery with intent to gawk is about the lightest thing anybody can think of. The whole phrase is certainly as old as the fifties, and I suspect became popular in the sixties.
    By the way, the OED’s first use of mopery is terrific: 1907 McClure’s Mag. 28 380/1 Come along, children, before the boogie man sloughs you in the skookum for mopery!

    Redintegro Iraq,

  2. irilyth

    I figured mopery was the act of sitting around moping, but what do I know. :^)

    I could totally see Satchel from Get Fuzzy in the role of the cow in the shaggy puppy story.

  3. SarahP

    Ah. Skookum for mopery just made my day.

    Another good word is “mullygrubs”. I don’t know if it’s a real word, but my mom asks if one is in the mullygrubs if one is acting grumpy and irritable.

  4. joe

    You’re thinking of William Burroughs, in either “Junky” or “Naked Lunch”. Mopery, with intent to gawk was a cop trick to roust a ne’er-do-well, before folks bothered with things like Criminal Intent and the Miranda Decision.


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