Throughout the history of the United States there have been many slang words for jail. Depending on the era in which you were born, you will definitely notice that people alter and come up with new slang words for jail native to the time. If you think back to the many slang words for jail that you have heard over the years, you will more than likely come up with a longer list of words that you never imagined possible.
Did you know that the culture of society can have a particular impact on the words that evolve out of that era. Take the 1930s for instance; you will notice that there evolved a plethora of linguistic slang. As relative to the topic at hand, there is no doubt about it that several slang words for jail came into existence.
Think for a moment, if you will, back to a time when gangsters were seen as heroes. The 1930s were such a time. The nation was coming out of a huge recession known as The Great Depression, and people needed heroes. So it was that many found their “hero” not in the fiction stories displayed in the movies or read over the airwaves. They found their national heroes in criminals who were fresh out of the big house.
The words “big house” were used to refer to a jail in the 1930s. It was during that era that the rate of incarceration in the United States was at an all time high. Internally, the prison system had their own social caste or subculture that was governed by an unwritten convict code that was instituted by the inmates themselves. So, while the trends of society may have had an effect on the slang for prison or jail, you better believe that the internal convict subculture also had a huge part in creating the slang as well.
Here are a list of popular slang terms which have been used for jail. Some of them you may recognize and others you might not. Nonetheless, these are terms that have filtered down through the eras and have managed to retain their place and usage in contemporary American linguistics:
Hoosegow, mainline joint, skinner joint, stoney lonesome, con college, glasshouse, bucket, club fed, greybar hotel, big house, slammer, calaboose, castle, cooler, country club, crowbar hotel, digger, farm, guardhouse, hole, joint, jug, juvie, pen, pokey, rock, sneezer, stockade, the clink.
The abovementioned word list is a combination of words used to describe either the word “jail” in a broad sense or even to describe the word “jail” but in a more concise sense. Many of the words actually use to refer to a particularly notorious jail. For example, the term “the rock” use to refer to the prison Alcatraz. That particular prison is situated on a rocky island in the San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz was open for 29 years and has quite a bit of history surrounding it. Although the prison is now closed, the term “the rock” that initially referred to Alcatraz has since become a term that generally relates to any prison.
Another example is the term “the castle” which used to refer to Sing Sing prison. Located in Ossining, New York, Sing Sing prison is one of America’s oldest prisons and is quite often referred to as “the castle on the Hudson River.” The word “castle” is now used to refer to any jail as well.
Finally, the words “the farm” used to refer to the infamous maximum security prison in Angola, Louisiana. “The Farm” is an actual prison farm where the inmates work tirelessly during the day. In the 1940s it was seen as the worst prison in America.
As you can see, there are a plethora of words used as slang for jail that have managed to filter down into colloquial language. Each decade brings with it a new slang term. There is no telling what the future holds.