Origins of strange laws

I’ve often wondered about the silly ‘laws’ that regularly turn up on the radio / email-forwards. You know the kind of thing: in Michigan, USA, it’s illegal to tie an alligator to a fire hydrant. Or something. They seem too bonkers to be made up, but raise countless red flags. The (never uninteresting) Straight Dope has the answer, taking the alligator as an example:

This law, however,

(a) isn’t a state law – it’s evidently a local ordinance, applicable only in one city; and

(b) doesn’t say anything at all about alligators. What it says is “No person shall in any manner obstruct the use of any fire hydrant in the city or have, place or allow to be placed any material or thing in front thereof or connect or tie thereto any object, animal or thing.”

So the ordinance does prohibit tying alligators to fire hydrants. It also prohibits tying lions, tigers, bears, or for that matter dogs to fire hydrants, and far from being absurd makes a world of sense: if you don’t want anyone obstructing fire hydrants, make it clear that they shouldn’t be used as hitching posts. Lots of so-called weird laws are like this: entirely reasonable when looked at in full or in context, but capable of being narrowly framed in some specific way that makes them seem silly.

Other examples include laws long-since repealed, or at least not enforced for decades, and ‘blue laws’: Sunday trading laws that business bribe their way around, resulting in the right to buy a bicycle but not a tricycle, for example. 

I’ve nothing to add, I just thought this was interesting. Next time I get such an email I’ll try to figure out how they could make sense.