Loitering and sauntering

Wikipedia’s page on the American writer Dorothy Parker mentions that she was once fined $5 for “loitering and sauntering” while taking part in an activist protest. 

Loitering is a well-enough known offence, but it is hard to see what the offence in sauntering is; indeed it is hard to see what the offence in loitering is. Surely we have all loitered or sauntered, or strolled, wandered, meandered, moseyed … at some time. 

According to dictionary.com loiter is the older word: before 1300–50; Middle English loteren, loytren, perhaps from Middle Dutch loteren “to stagger, totter”; compare Dutch leuteren “to dawdle”. Saunter is: 1660–70; of uncertain origin, though one blogger traverses a number of suggested origins. 

Loitering is still an offence in some jurisdictions, but usually more is needed than just standing around doing nothing, for example the intention to commit some more substantive offence, or failing to move on when directed. Basically it gives the police the power to charge anyone they want to but can’t pin anything else on, often people in easily identifiable groups in society. I can’t find anything about sauntering as an offence, except for one possibly automated website which states:

Saunter and commit crime are semantically related. In some cases you can use “Saunter” instead a verb phrase “Commit crime”.


Not the Nine O’Clock News was a British television sketch comedy show from 1979 to 1982. I don’t remember watching it, but remember a friend playing one sketch on cassette, which I still remember close on 40 years later. A police constable is summoned by a sergeant and reprimanded for “being a little over-zealous” (video, script) (medium potential-for-offence warning). In one month, he has “brought 117 ridiculous, trumped-up and ludicrous charges … against the same man”, who happened to be in of those easily identifiable groups. One of those was “loitering with intent to use a pedestrian crossing”. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover. (Yes, the sergeant is played by Rowan Atkinson.)