Saturday, February 22, 2014

Jailhouse Rock


A couple of listeners asked about slang terms for a jail or jail cell. The select list below shows the year in which the word entered English with that particular meaning. The source is the Oxford English Dictionary.

·      bastille [1561], from the name of the prison-fortress built in Paris in the 14th century.
·      big house, in Britain [1851], a workhouse; in America [1905], a prison.
·      bridewell [1552], from St. Bride’s Well, a holy well in London, the site of a lodging converted to a hospital converted to a house of correction
·      brig [1852], from a place of detention on board a ship (the brigantine).
·      bullpen [1809], named after an enclosure for cattle.
·      calaboose [1797], Louisiana French Creole calabouse, from the Spanish calabozo, dungeon.
·      can [1912], by analogy to the tin vessel in which food is sealed up.
·      cell [1701], originally a small room in a monastery.
·      clink [1530], the name of a prison in Southwark, probably taken from the verb to clink, to fasten securely.
·      cooler [1872], from the container used to cool things down.
·      dungeon [1325], a deep, dark vault. The word is connected to dominion, the right to control.
·      hoosegow [1911], from the Mexican juzgado, a tribunal.
·      joint [1953], probably from the earlier meaning [1821], a place of illegal activity.
·      jug [1815], a shortened version of stone jug [1796], a nickname for Newgate Prison.
·      lockup [1839], a room for the temporary detention of offenders.
·      poky [1828], originally a small, cramped, confined room.
·      slammer [1952], from the resounding noise when a heavy prison door is slammed shut.
·      stir [1851], origin unknown, although some sources argue in favor of a Romany word that meant prison.
·      stockade [1865], originally a defensive barrier of stakes; later, a military prison.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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