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I read some articles about old dumb laws in NY that few people know about. Apparently, these are violations that no one would be fined for in practice because they are so archaic that not even law-enforcers are aware of them. However, I was unable to find any primary source that confirms that any of those laws are actually in place.

  • A fine of $25 can be levied for flirting.
  • A license must be purchased before hanging clothes on a clothesline.
  • Carmel: A man can't go outside while wearing a jacket and pants that do not match.
  • Citizens may not greet each other by "putting one's thumb to the nose and wiggling the fingers".
  • Donkeys are not allowed to sleep in bathtubs in Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • During a concert, it is illegal to eat peanuts and walk backwards on the sidewalks.
  • In New York, you can teach your pet parrot to speak, but not to squawk.
  • In New York City it's illegal to shake a dust mop out a window.
  • It is against the law to throw a ball at someone's head for fun.
  • Jaywalking is legal, as long as it's not diagonal. That is, you can cross the street out of the crosswalk, but you can't cross a street diagonally.
  • Slippers are not to be worn after 10:00 P.M.
  • Staten Island: You may only water your lawn if the hose is held in your hand.
  • While riding in an elevator, one must talk to no one, and fold his hands while looking toward the door.

(This list was taken from https://forestgrove.pgusd.org/documents/Computer-Lab/Strange-State-Laws.pdf)

Can anyone confirm if any of these are real laws in NY?

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    I gather a lot of these "funny laws" are in fact finance bills. You raise a silly law and tack $300,000 of funding for the fire department that's overspent, etc
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 15:55
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    It seems entirely plausible that the items on the list are all based on laws and ordinances that were at one time on the books in New York. However, even if all of them were still on the books in 2011 (the copyright posted on your source), some might well no longer be on the books today. Additionally, do consider the likelihood that some of them have been intentionally interpreted or phrased so as to sound as absurd as possible. Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 16:02
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    @JohnBollinger: I wouldn't be surprised if there are some rules that would would require that anyone hanging objects from ropes that pass over public ways have some kind of an engineering analysis to ensure that there would be no danger of the objects endangering passersby below.
    – supercat
    Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 17:59
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    How many of these laws are actually court rulings in specific cases that made it into case law? Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 5:22
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    “ Jaywalking is legal, as long as it's not diagonal. That is, you can cross the street out of the crosswalk, but you can't cross a street diagonally.” why is this a stupid law? In Europe a crosswalk is for crossing with the right of way. It is not considered an implied prohibition to cross elsewhere unless unreasonably close to the crosswalk and not using it. Crossing diagonally unreasonably increases the time and distance it takes one to cross. It is totally reasonably to prohibit that.
    – kisspuska
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 6:24

3 Answers 3

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This is a mixed bag of so-called "laws", often interpreted in an unfavorable or satirical light. Because of this, you might say that none (save one) of these laws are literally laws, but they are the effects of laws that do exist. I'll do my best to sort this out.

A fine of $25 can be levied for flirting.

Almost certainly an anti-prostitution law taken to the extreme. I only found one example of a bill, but it failed, and was only tangentially related. It's not hard to imagine that at some point, flirting was technically illegal.

A license must be purchased before hanging clothes on a clothesline.

This is most likely a satire of the actual law, which probably states that you cannot hang anything out your window or in your yard without a permit. Many cities and states have rules about what you can, and can't, put on your property. These are usually related to health and/or aesthetics.

Carmel: A man can't go outside while wearing a jacket and pants that do not match.

It's too hard to track this one down right now, but that sounds like a satire of something like a specific situation where a person must be wearing specific clothing. For example, I would imagine a firefighter or school crossing guard having these requirements for safety reasons.

Citizens may not greet each other by "putting one's thumb to the nose and wiggling the fingers".

Edited for clarity

While we do have the First Amendment right to Free Speech, it is sometimes recognized in jurisdictions that certain actions and phrases may pass the "imminent lawless action" exception. It is likely some kind of ordinance that prohibits being unnecessarily rude to the point where the offender may end up being assaulted or worse as a result of the gesture. This gesture was known as early as Shakespeare, with the "I thumb my nose at thee" line, also known as the "cock-a-snook" gesture in some regions.

Of course, the actual law is probably much more nuanced than that, and this is just a funny way of reducing this law down to the most absurd example that someone could think of. Thanks to some comments, I just realized that this is very likely § 240.20 Disorderly conduct.

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof:

...

  1. In a public place, he uses abusive or obscene language, or makes an obscene gesture; or

...

Several states have some sort of statute like this that are technically First Amendment Free Speech violations, yet generally recognized by those jurisdictions as having legal force, since the purpose is to discourage violence that can be caused by "fighting words."

Donkeys are not allowed to sleep in bathtubs in Brooklyn, N.Y.

This is likely a structural integrity joke that doesn't hold up well (sorry, couldn't resist). Floors only have limited strength. If you look up the weight of a cast-iron bathtub and the maximum weight of a full-grown donkey, you'll find it weighs just less than a ton (about 1,800 pounds, assuming a heavy tub and large donkey). Someone probably saw a law about the maximum weight you can put on a floor, then looked up how much things weigh, and the joke practically writes itself.

During a concert, it is illegal to eat peanuts and walk backwards on the sidewalks.

Again, this is probably taken out of context, but I presume that someone was doing something stupid and got hurt or killed, so a law was written about not walking on the sidewalk without paying attention to where you were walking. For example, if a sidewalk had a open manhole cover or something, and a person fell in. This is just a hyperbole example of the actual law, whatever it may be.

In New York, you can teach your pet parrot to speak, but not to squawk.

Easy. Noise ordinance law somewhere. A parrot's squawk can exceed 105 dB, and is generally disruptive to living next door to you in a thin-walled apartment. This person just found something really loud, and translated this law to match that law's prohibition. It's unlikely you'll find a law this specific, but noise ordinance laws exist in many areas. My area is 75 dB during the day, 70 dB at night.

In New York City it's illegal to shake a dust mop out a window.

That's definitely still on the books. It's part of the littering law.

Littering, sweeping, throwing, or casting any material such as ashes, garbage, paper, dust, or other garbage or rubbish into or upon any street or public place, vacant lot, air shaft, areaway, backyard, court, or alley is illegal. Throwing garbage out of windows (for example, from buildings or vehicles) is also a violation. In addition, no person may allow anyone under his/her control (agent or employee) to commit a littering, sweep- out, or throw-out violation. Merchants must put all sweepings into suitable garbage receptacles for pickup by a private carter. Residential units must put sweepings into suitable garbage receptacles for pick up by DSNY. Sanitation litter baskets may not be used for this purpose.

It is against the law to throw a ball at someone's head for fun.

As far as I can tell, this has a serious history. Carnival workers ("carnies") often had setups that involved heavy solid balls. The kind that could literally cause concussions if they were hit in the head. Dunk tanks, knock-stuff-over games, and so on. Presumably, people thought it would be funny to assault the carnies, so laws were written. Of course, assault is already illegal, but it was probably put there was a way to let people know it was a serious situation.

Jaywalking is legal, as long as it's not diagonal. That is, you can cross the street out of the crosswalk, but you can't cross a street diagonally.

This is really just saying that there's no law prohibiting jaywalking specifically, but there are laws about when you're allowed to cross an intersection diagonally. Again, making it sound weird or strange. It's just a loophole in the lawbooks. Presumably, if people started getting hit while crossing mid-street, they'd add a new law to address that.

Slippers are not to be worn after 10:00 P.M.

This is likely another oversimplification. It's probably something more like "you have to wear solid-soled shoes at night to protect your feet from broken debris and rats" or something like that.

Staten Island: You may only water your lawn if the hose is held in your hand.

This is likely a water conservation law. Automated sprinklers and lawn sprinklers waste water. In an effort to combat that problem, requiring hand-holding your hose makes you more likely to not overwater your lawn.

While riding in an elevator, one must talk to no one, and fold his hands while looking toward the door.

Of this list, this one is presumably a satire law that makes a statement about societal customs in some places of New York. It's highly unlikely this would be real law, but rather an expectation of how to behave in an elevator if you didn't want to have a bad experience.


So, overall, I'd say that virtually none of the laws actually read like they do on this list, but some variant of the law in a more generalized form probably does exist.

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    This conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Pat W.
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 14:59
  • I'm surprised that you're tracing all these to statute, instead of to charges or cases.
    – fectin
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 12:18
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    @fectin A law is on the books when passed by legislature, not when it is charged or prosecuted. The question was if such dumb laws exist, to which this answer allegedly attempts to demonstrate that most are satirical/funny/absurd interpretations of such laws. Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 13:18
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    re: "You can't teach a parrot to squawk" - that's not law, that's just practical reality. Most parrots already know how to squawk on their own. That's like saying "You can't teach a dog to bark or a cow to moo". You obviously can't teach them to do what they're just going to do anyhow, law or no law. You could try teaching a parrot not to squawk, but that's probably a lot harder. Parrots gonna parrot. Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 20:03
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Jaywalking is legal, as long as it's not diagonal. That is, you can cross the street out of the crosswalk, but you can't cross a street diagonally.

This is a misstatement of the law, which prohibits crossing street intersections diagonally, but doesn't prohibit crossing diagonally otherwise:

(c) No pedestrian shall cross a roadway intersection diagonally unless authorized by official traffic-control devices; and, when authorized to cross diagonally, pedestrians shall cross only in accordance with the official traffic-control devices pertaining to such crossing movements.

The law presumably exists because the legislature found that it was significantly more dangerous to be walking in the middle of intersections than other kinds of jaywalking.

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    Arguably, crossing a street diagonally is also more dangerous (and disturbs traffic more) than crossing it straight (as you are longer on the street), so having this kind of law makes sense. (I have no idea whether it existed in any form.) Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 22:36
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    @PaŭloEbermann That's what my thought was originally, crossing outside of crosswalks is such an integral part of NYC though that I'm guessing it was never particularly restricted. Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 5:22
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    @PaŭloEbermann : not only are you longer on the street when crossing an intersection diagonally, but you are crossing four different traffic directions at the same time. Cars can come from four different directions, so it's more likely that you fail to notice one.
    – vsz
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 7:11
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    There's a huge difference in the meaning of "diagonal", between "crossing a street diagonally" and "crossing an intersection diagonally". For a street it just means "in an oblique direction"; for an intersection it means crossing through the middle of the intersection as opposed to crossing just one street next to the intersection.
    – Stef
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 9:18
  • @PaŭloEbermann: Holding up traffic by jaywalking is a dick move in the first place. Crossing diagonally when there's no traffic coming is no big deal (assuming you can see far enough down the block to know there aren't cars coming, and that you're able to hurry if a car turns onto the street). But traffic laws get written assuming that people are terrible, not allowing safe and efficient things that require any judgement or skill. :/ Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 23:07
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Throwing a ball at someone's head would be Assault.

I'm not a lawyer, but a quick Google search confirms that at least one of those acts is definitely illegal.

According to this page on the website of a New York law firm:

This means that if an individual assaults another person with a weapon, whether it’s a bat or some other type of weapon, that person has now committed assault in the 2nd degree,

Thus, the act of throwing a ball at someone's head would be classed as 2nd Degree Assault.

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    @PMF the difference is that when you play sports, you consent to reasonable contact. So a soccer player would be deemed to assume the possibility of being struck with a soccer ball in play, but perhaps not to be subject to random and arbitrary peltings by golf balls. Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 14:33
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    @RobertColumbia This raises a question to me: If you punch someone in a boxing match, it's not assault because of consent. But what if people mutually start a fight (e.g. they're having an argument and say "let's take this outside") -- that seems like consent, but I assume police would try to stop it and charge them with assaulting each other.
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 14:51
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    @Barmar there are laws against public brawling and disorderly conduct that likely apply. But you are right, consent normally vitiates assault liability, and this consent is contextual. Similarly, paintball players, by stepping onto the field in gear, consent to being shot with paintballs but not being punched or tackled. Doing a gridiron football tackle against a paintball player or shooting a gridiron football player with a paintball gun would likely constitute assault since those forms of contact were not consented to. Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 14:54
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    I can't say this for sure but I'd assume there are also rational limits to implied consent in sports. For example, if a paintball player is hit, raises their hand to indicate they are out and starts walking off the field, it probably becomes illegal to intentionally continue shooting them. Similarly if a boxer is knocked to the ground and the referee tells their opponent to stop hitting them, it could be assault if the opponent continues hitting them. Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 15:35
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    @IllusiveBrian that's right, and that's why consent is contextual. Consent is indicated by a person's behavior. By ceasing to participate in the sport or demonstrating that they are not longer a valid target according to the rules, the person telegraphs to others that their consent is no longer valid. Consent is not a magical marker that attaches to a person when the right incantation is said, but a social reality that can be evaluated based on social skills and context. Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 18:23

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