« previous post | next post »

This is both one of my favorite words and one of my most enjoyable modes.  Although I am normally very active and highly goal oriented, and walk almost as rapidly as a Singaporean (fastest in the world), occasionally I simply want to unwind a bit, especially when I'm with a like-minded friend, and just stroll about in a leisurely fashion.  Thus, for example, I will say, "Let's mosey on over to the Art Museum", and it will take us an hour or two, whereas if we walked at a normal pace and went straight to our destination, we might get there in half an hour.

Since "mosey" is a curious sounding word, one might well be tempted to look up its exact meaning and etymology.  If you do so, you'll likely be surprised and flummoxed, for its derivation and definition are both fuzzy, like the word itself.

The American Heritage Dictionary tells us that mosey means both "To move in a leisurely, relaxed way; saunter: moseyed over to the club after lunch" and "To get going; move along".

Collins English Dictionary:  "informal (often foll by: along or on) to walk in a leisurely manner; amble"

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary:  "to wander leisurely; stroll; saunter (often fol. by along, about, etc.)"; "to leave quickly; decamp"

Wiktionary provides a fuller and more elaborate apparatus:

Alternative forms


Unknown. Originally attested in Southern US dialects. Suggested origins include:


mosey (third-person singular simple present moseys, present participle moseying, simple past and past participle moseyed)

    1. (chiefly US, dialectal) To set off, get going; to start a journey.
    2. (chiefly US, dialectal) To go off quickly: to hurry up.
    3. (chiefly US, dialectal) To amble; to walk or proceed in a leisurely manner.

The summary findings of OED point out the contradictory origin and derivation of the word:

slang (originally U.S.).

  intransitive. Originally:  to go away quickly or promptly; to make haste (now rare).  Later usually:  to walk in a leisurely or aimless manner; to amble, wander.  Frequently with along, off, on, over.

The last two sentences quoted from the OED are exactly the way I use the word.  However, if a policeman or the owner of a property where you are caught trespassing tells you to "mosey along", I would understand that it means "leave / go away now".

Zihan Guo, who called the ambiguity of "mosey" to my attention, cautions against falling prey to etymological fallacy by pointing out that the Latin root of "passion" means "suffer", and that there are many other words having such a bifurcated origin and derivation.  A word to the wise.


  1. Matt McIrvin said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 6:47 am

    I'm pretty sure that if you are moseying you have to pass through a pair of those swinging Western-movie saloon doors at some point.

  2. David Cameron Staples said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 7:26 am

    "However, if a policeman or the owner of a property where you are caught trespassing tells you to "mosey along", I would understand that it means "leave / go away now"."

    I would interpret that as litotes; the American equivalent of an English "go on, off you pop", or "how about you wander off". It's phrased as a suggestion to stroll away, but understood to be an order to do so immediately and with all practical speed.

    It's not the meaning or the etymology which gives it emphasis, but the context.

  3. Mark p said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 7:26 am

    Mosey is one of those words that are completely familiar but rarely heard.

  4. David Cameron Staples said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 7:33 am

    As far as bifurcation of etymology and meaning go, it's a nice problem, often worried over by silly, if happy people.

    That's not even counting words which mean opposite things, like "inflammable".

  5. Roscoe said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 7:55 am

    Via Gary Larson: "The 100-Meter Mosey"

  6. Not a naive speaker said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 8:11 am

    American Slang Wentworth Flexner 2nd Ed.
    v.i. to move along; to walk slowly or aimlessly. 1829: DAE Colloq.

    Slang Partridge Beale 8th ed
    mosey (off)
    To decamp; to depart quickly; orig US (-1836); adopted ca. 1890; superseded by sense 2. (The other US sense, to hasten, be 'lively', bustle about has not been anglicised – contrast sense 2. See esp. Thornton (R.H. Thornton American Glossary 1912) ?etym.
    2. Often with adv., about, along, around, off, over, etc.: to jog along (OED quotes Kipling , 1891 'I'll mosey along somehow); in C.20, even less active than 'jog', more 'to stroll idly, perhaps lingering vaguely in the hope that some circumstance, pleasant or of interest may develop out of it' (Laurie Atkonson,1974), as 'I think perhaps I'll just mosey over to the NAAFI – anyone coming?' (Paul Beale).

  7. Phil H said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 8:14 am

    That's so funny, I would have sworn that this was very English. I had no idea it was in (somewhat) common use in the USA as well. To me it has always sounded like a slangy word that must have some very local origin, so I thought it was like barney or grokkel, some kind of UK localism.
    You would have heard mosey a lot growing up in our house. We often used it of the dogs, when they were stalking about their territory: What's Jody [a poodle] up to now? Oh, she's just having a mosey round the garden…

  8. KeithB said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 8:21 am

    On my Firefox newsfeed, I just saw the following item:
    We tested AI interview tools. Here is what we found.
    One gave our candidate a high score for English proficiency when she spoke only in German.

    I don't click on these as a matter of principle, so this is all I know.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 8:24 am

    Seems like "mosey" is a Wanderwort whose peregrinations are hard to trace.

    Love all the comments, for which much thanks.

    The Gary Larson cartoon made me ROTFL!!!

  10. Scott P. said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 8:44 am

    The 'leave quickly' meaning is also implicit in the common phrase 'let's mosey.' That's not an invitation to a leisurely stroll.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 9:08 am

    @Scott P.

    That reminds me of "vamoose" (= "scram"), which calls to mind the Spanish and Algonquian etymologies mentioned in the o.p.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 9:53 am

    I get the feeling that words for fleeing quickly, often uttered by thieves and other miscreants, as well as fugitives, are among the most highly colloquial expressions in a language. We've already seen a lot in this post and its comments.

    One of the most conspicuously spoken only ejaculations in Pekingese, and this goes back a long way in street speech, is dier or drr, for which there are no suitable Sinographs. It means "let's go / scram / split", or, as a group of kids who are doing something naughty might exclaim, "amscray!"

    See Victor H. Mair, "[The] File [on the Cosmic] Track [and Individual] Dough[tiness]: Introduction and Notes for a Translation of the Ma-wang-tui Manuscripts of the Lao Tzu [Old Master]," Sino-Platonic Papers, 20 (October, 1990), 1-68, p. 11.

  13. cameron said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 10:54 am

    When it's time for me to leave a social gathering, I'm often torn as to whether I should vamoose, skedaddle, or mosey. Sometimes I simply absquatulate.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 12:50 pm

    @cameron: Have you considered sauntering?

  15. Heidi L Mair said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 1:12 pm

    I loved this post! I use the word amble for a similar type of walking, especially after I strolled along the Emerson/Thoreau Amble with a friend. This is described in my post, Take a Hike!

  16. DBMG said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 1:30 pm

    I don't know how to calm down. My moseys keep turning into traipses.

  17. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 2:33 pm

    @DBMG —
    You want to be careful about traipsing. Where I grew up, in the rural northern foothills of the Catskills, many property owners who did not want hunters crossing their land put up “no trespassing” signs, which were stipulated by law. My father would often explain, straight-faced, that they were “no traipsing” signs.

  18. Chas Belov said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 2:44 pm

    @Scott P: For "Let's mosey" I and my friends have pretty much always said "Let's went" (Southwestern Pennsylvania)

    @Phil H: If "mosey" is common in the UK, I wonder where Wiktionary got the US marker from.

  19. Bloix said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 3:13 pm

    bail, book, bounce, dip, roll.

  20. Mark Metcalf said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 3:57 pm

    Then there's that great (and somewhat related) word: "lollygag". Back in the day, commissioned naval officers and chief petty officers were fond of accusing their charges of "lollygagging" when they were (figuratively) spinning their wheels instead of actually accomplishing something useful.

    The history of the term is also interesting:

  21. Trogluddite said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 4:19 pm

    As a BrE speaker who's family background spans many BrE dialects, I have always thought of "mosey" as an Americanism. It's not something I have ever heard used as everyday speech in any of the dialects that I'm familiar with, though I imagine that most Brits would be familiar with it. Indeed, it is just the kind of language which I might have affected during my 1970's childhood when playing "cowboys and injuns", aping stereotypes from the US Western movies and series which were popular over here at the time.

    Beside the aforementioned "ambling", "traipsing", and "sauntering", Brits also enjoy "bimbling" and "pootling" (neither of which could be used to convey urgency, that would be "scarpering").

  22. Thomas Rees said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 4:37 pm

    @Chas Belov: We used to say “Fuímonos”, a blend of “Fuimos” (we went) and “Vámonos” (let’s leave). It was an intentional calque of “Let’s went”, which was a catchphrase of the character Pancho from the “Cisco Kid” series.

  23. Viseguy said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 5:54 pm

    @Thomas Rees: "Let's went"

    Reminds me of the Russian пошли! — "we went!", meaning "let's go!"

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 8:00 pm

    Do people still say "scarper"?

    David Cameron Staples: I'd call "mosey along" for "leave now" an example of understatement, or meiosis for those who like the Greek terms. "Litotes" I understand to mean specifically negating the opposite, as in "not bad" or "no mean feat".

    Gotta bail.

  25. Ch. Legros said,

    July 20, 2021 @ 4:30 am
    Très peu utilisé aujourd'hui, littéraire

  26. rpsms said,

    July 20, 2021 @ 9:33 am

    Especially considering the US origins, I wonder if this comes from the character Mose the Bowery b'hoy which was a massively popular c. 1850.

    I remember reading about the character while researching a watercolor made in the 1850s as an advertisement for Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia

  27. Rodger C said,

    July 20, 2021 @ 10:09 am

    @Barbara Phillips Long: I should have known I wasn't the only person here who used that etymological pun.

  28. Ioanna said,

    July 20, 2021 @ 4:56 pm

    I'm tempted to invent a folk etymology about how Moses moseyed, diminutive suffix, etc

  29. Misha Schutt said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 1:00 am

    “Mosey along” is indeed the slow amble for me (born 1950, upstate New York), but without the complement “let’s mosey” or “time to mosey” is a hasty getaway. Traipsing (a favorite word of my mother’s) is walking laboriously, or considerably farther than planned—it overlaps with schlepping in that sense.

  30. Victor Mair said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 8:12 am

    I usually think of the verb schlep(p) like this:

    haul or carry (something heavy or awkward).
    "she schlepped her groceries home"

  31. Bloix said,

    July 23, 2021 @ 9:19 am

    Traipse to me is to walk in an elaborately unconcerned or show-offy manner. Anyone who is traipsing is likely to utter "la-dee-dah" from time to time.

    Schlep can be transitive or intransitive. It does mean to carry something heavy or bulky, as in your example of groceries, but it also has the sense of dragging oneself around, meaning to undertake an unpleasant or laborious trip – "I schlepped all the way to Canarsie just to see her."

  32. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    July 24, 2021 @ 1:10 am

    @ Bloix:
    If someone is walking in a show-offy manner and saying “lah-de-dah,” then I would expect them to be flouncing. The “elaborately unconcerned” description seems to suit “traipsing” better, as it lacks the indignation of the flounce.

    I would have said that traipsing is to walk “any old whichway,” a manner that lacks the precision of marching or strutting, but does not descend to the random absurdities of the Ministry of Silly Walks.

  33. Kate Bunting said,

    July 24, 2021 @ 4:15 am

    Interesting! 'Traipse' to me (UK) has the meaning given by Cambridge Eng. Dictionary "to walk from one place to another, often feeling tired or bored: 'I spent the day traipsing around the shops, but found nothing suitable for her'.".
    whereas Merriam-Webster says "to walk or travel about without apparent plan but with or without a purpose".
    I agree with Trogluddite that 'mosey' is familiar as an American expression, but one I wouldn't naturally use myself.

  34. Terpomo said,

    July 24, 2021 @ 2:03 pm

    @Mark Metcalf
    "Lollygagging" sounds somewhat worrying to the modern internet-savvy youth.

  35. Bloix said,

    July 25, 2021 @ 8:35 am

    On traipse:

    in light of the very different understandings of the word. I checked the OED and then did an ngram. Here's what I found (apologizes for the lack of links, but anyone can easily reproduce it):

    Trapes or traipse appears as a noun in the early 17th century and seems to have meant a dirty, slovenly woman, a slattern, the lowest sort of domestic worker. As a verb it meant to move like a trapes, in a slow bedraggled manner.

    Jonathan Swift used the verb in one of his Letters to Stella (1710) to mean to accompany others in doing errands or paying visits – implying in a humorous way that he was wasting time following after his friends and acquaintances.

    I found an edited version of the Letters to Stella in which the editor, writing a century later, drops a footnote that Swift used the noun to mean a prostitute and in the verb form he was jokingly comparing his friends, who were paying a visit in search of a favor, to streetwalkers attempting to attract a customer.

    If this is right, than traipse has followed the same evolution as slut, which originally meant a domestic worker who performed difficult, heavy work while drenched in sweat and filth. (Virginia Woolf has a line somewhere about how, on arriving very in the morning for a visit to a friend, she had to step over the bucket of the slut who was scrubbing the doorstep.) Both modern meanings – a laborious journey, or a sexually suggestive walk – seem to derive from the stereotype of the poorest and most exploited domestic worker.

    The ngram confirms that many uses from the 1800s to the present have an implied sexual component, although over time there's some bleaching.

    At first you get things like I won't have my daughter traipsing after that young man, She's been traipsing around the countryside with that boy, don't you come traipsing into the kitchen in that dress, etc.

    Over time you start to see usages that aren't sexual, and mean a person selfishly traveling for his or her own pleasure, often at someone else's expense, without any goal in mind, and while neglecting work or family duties. "Traipsing around Europe" is common. There are lots of examples in dialogue in which the word is an accusation that is denied – "While you were traipsing away to New York" – "I wasn't traipsing!"

    You do see the occasional meaning of wearisome walking combined with futility of purpose – we traipsed through the hills all day but shot nothing – but much more common is the self-indulgent meaning.

    And the sexual content is still around: "All those young ladies traipsing in and out of your apartment" – "what do you mean, traipsing?" – "you know just what I mean!"

  36. Jason M said,

    July 25, 2021 @ 9:09 am

    What a great post and comments!

    Words for leaving seem highly prone to: 1) calques and direct borrows; 2) private or friend/family-group-specific language.

    Examples from above for (1):

    “we went” which is a calque (or could be) of Russian пошли or what Gagarin, the cosmonaut, famously said as he was lifting off, Поехали!, because, of course, in Russian you have to be specific about the manner in which you will have went. BTW the American non-calque-y sounding equivalent is “we gone” to my ear.

    “Vamoose” is a loan-ish from another language, but in general it just seems common to adopt easily another language’s word for “we out”. How many anglo types with no Spanish background say “Vamonos” (maybe those of us who grew up with Speedy Gonzalez) or sans other French background say “Allons-y” or without much link to Italian say “Andiamo”? Or anyone spending time around people from India will be saying “challo” before they know it or even “ zǒuba” if around Chinese?

    (2) so many commenters shared family-specific or friend-specific terms and neologisms and even private terms for skedaddling, moseying, sauntering, traipsing, schlepping etc. off from a social engagement. I suspect this familial-type usage is common and includes point 1, such that, for example, in my extended family, you are likely to hear: Поехали (we are usually driving off, not walking), Challo, vamonos, andiamo, allons-y (though usually more imperative get your butts moving allez, allez), and even zouba.

    This topic deserves a full dissertation.

RSS feed for comments on this post