photo1.sunsphereAn evening or two ago, I stopped into Mooney’s, the great little local market just on the border between Sewanee and Monteagle, to pick up some garlic powder. I had paid for it, when it occurred to me that I should grab one of those delicious chocolate bars they sell as well–grabbing one, I laid it on the counter though the garlic powder had already been rung up.

Oops. A minor inconvenience. “Oh, sorry,” I said. “I should have …” and I paused there. “You know, there are so many things I could say after those three words.”

“Now you’re just head copping yourself,” said Joan, the owner, and we both cracked up laughing. “Hey, what do you expect? It’s a hippie place.” So I left with the garlic powder, the chocolate bar, and a new expression.

To head cop is not a phrase I’d ever heard before, though its meaning is instantly understandable as something like “to subject one’s conscience to an external source of perceived authority” (my stab at a definition). In his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud had called the super-ego as “the vehicle of tradition and of all the time-resisting judgements of value which have propagated themselves in this manner from generation to generation” (1933, 105). The expression head copping, however, is not simply descriptive as Freud is here, but dismissive. In the same way cop is a pejorative term for police, so head-cop is a pejorative way to refer to the super-ego– both point to a figure with power tending toward abuse.

As it turns out, the phrase head cop was coined by Stephen Gaskin,”an often tie-dye-clad hippie philosopher, a proud ‘freethinker’ and iconic founder of The Farm,” as he was described in his 2014 obituary in the Tennesseean. I know Joan spent quite a few years living on The Farm, the utopian collective founded in 1971 in Summertown, Tennessee, and so she probably heard the term from Gaskin himself at some point. I haven’t looked up the phrase in Gaskin’s own work, but in a chapter called “The Formation of Hippie Spirituality” (from Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances), he is quoted on the topic.Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 7.46.39 AM

As a synonym for mind control, Gaskin is clearly using the term here in a more serious way than Joan had been. And it can be a serious matter to let allegiance to an authority devolve into mindless obedience. But it seems the phrase head cop can also be employed in a more light-hearted way to dismiss the bossy “shoulda-woulda-coulda” voices of the super ego. You don’t just have to have garlic powder; go ahead and have a candy bar.




About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Language & Etymology, Sewanee, Tennessee, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Head-copping

  1. William McKeachie says:

    Nice! Puts me in mind of W.H. Auden’s rather touching poem “In Memory of Sgmund Freud” in which he celebrates Freud for teaching us to track our emotional imprisonments back to where “the accusations” began and, thence, to be freed. Or, as St Paul put it: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Joan did a nice job of freeing you, Chris, from your head-copping moment! Who knew how broad and deep runs Moody’s ministry on the Mountain!

    • He wasn’t clever at all: he merely told
      the unhappy Present to recite the Past
      like a poetry lesson till sooner
      or later it faltered at the line where

      long ago the accusations had begun,
      and suddenly knew by whom it had been judged,
      how rich life had been and how silly,
      and was life-forgiven and more humble,

      able to approach the Future as a friend
      without a wardrobe of excuses …

  2. Wonderful thoughts for the new year— best to you, William!

  3. William McKeachie says:

    Oops! I meant Mooney’s, of course! A Freudian/religious slip, I guess 😂❗️

  4. Joan Thomas says:

    Giggling, blushing, feeling honored in several ways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s