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Guests of the state

Posted by ESC on March 10, 2004

In Reply to: Prison/jail posted by ESC on March 10, 2004

: : : : : : While there are many names for prison and jail here in the US and Britain, their reference origin is vague. Can anyone help out here or even add to the list?
: : : : : in the joint
: : : : : in the brig
: : : : : in the calaboose
: : : : : in the hoosekow (sp)
: : : : : in the big house
: : : : : up the river
: : : : : in the slammer
: : : : : put away

: : : : : Any and all input would be appreciated.

: : : : doing time

: : : stir
: : : pokie
: : : in the tank
: : : in the can
: : : clink

: :
: : : I appreciate the additions but can you help with the origins also?

: Jail/prison - "A 'jail' is typically a building, though it may be a lockup inside a police station, for the confinement of those who are awaiting trial or who have been convicted of minor offenses (misdemeanors). Local police departments usually administer city jails, and sheriffs' offices usually administer county jails. People convicted of major crimes (felonies) are likely to be confined in a 'prison' or 'penitentiary,' these words being used interchangeably.

: Another type of 'penal institution' (the generic term for all places of confinement for those adjudged guilty of a crime) is a 'reformatory,' or 'house of correction,' where juveniles convicted of lesser offenses are sent for training and discipline intended to reform rather than punish them. A penitentiary for women is sometimes called a 'reformatory' as well."

: From "When is a Pig a Hog? A guide to confoundingly related English words" by Bernice Randall (Prentice Hall, New York, 1991).

: I will look in my other references this evening.

Jail or gaol -- From the L*tin "cavea," cave. By the 1640s the British, including our colonists, were using the "gaol" variant, but by 1776 the "jail" form was taking over in America.

Prison - 11th century. Via French from L*atin "prehendere," to seize.

Penitentiary - literally a place for penitents. American word dating from 1790, "when the Quaker state of Pennsylvania built a special cell block to separate more serious offenders from lesser ones." "Pen" for short.

Workhouse - 1533 British term, first recorded in America in 1653.

The clink - 18th century term. Originally the name of a London jail. Became popular around 1918.

Calaboose - 1792 but didn't become common until cowboys popularized it in the 1860s. From Spanish "calabozo," dungeon.

Reformatory - common after Elmira, N.Y., reformatory opened in 1807.

Jailhouse - 1812.

Jug - 1815, probably from Spanish "juzgado." Also "hoosegow," 1860s, cowboy term from same word.

Lockup - 1839.

Cooler - 1884. Originally a cell for "cooling off" drunks or violent prisoners.

Joint - Penitentiary. 1890s.

Big House - Penitentiary, especially Sing Sing, 1900.

Can - 1910.

Pokey - 1919. From "pogy," an 1891 word for workhouse or poorhouse.

Tank - 1920s. Fish tank, 1939. Large cell for holding suspects or new prisoners. "Fish" had meant newcomer since around 1900. Drunk tank, 1943.

The Rock - Alcatraz, 1930s. Located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.

Slammer, the slam - mid 1930s. Long before that the slammer was the underworld word for door.

Do time - 1860.

ALL OF THE ABOVE FROM: "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).

UP THE RIVER - "was originally an underworld term for a sentence in a reformatory or jail. It probably derives from the fact that New York State's most famous prison, Sing Sing, is 'up the river' from New York City." From "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).