Prison slang is an argot used primarily by criminals and detainees in correctional institutions. It is a form of anti-language. Many of the terms deal with criminal behavior, incarcerated life, legal cases, street life, and different types of inmates. Prison slang has existed as long as there have been crime and prisons; in Charles Dickens' time it was known as "thieves' cant". Words from prison slang often eventually migrate into common usage, such as "snitch", "ducking", and "narc".
Prison slang, like other types of slang and dialects, varies by region. For that reason, the origins and the movement of prison slang across prisons are of interest to many linguists and cultural anthropologists.
Some terms used in current prison slang are quite old. For example, "to cart", meaning to transfer to another prison, has been in use in Glasgow since 1733.
A two-year study was done by Bert Little, Ph.D. on American English slang with the main focus being in the coastal plain region of the Southeast U.S. His study published by The Trustees of Indiana University on behalf of the Anthropological Linguistics journal goes on to provide an extensive glossary of common prison slang terms that he found circling through the prison systems. Below is a list of examples included in the glossary:
|Bagman||Someone who is in possession of drugs|
|Bang||A drug injection (other terms include fix, hit, shot)|
|Green||A term for paper money|
|Iced||A term for killing another inmate or prison guard|
|In the hole||When an inmate is separated from the other inmates by the authorities in a separate, isolated unit|
|Longjohn||A person who is not incarcerated and is having sexual relations with an inmate's wife|
|Rat||The equivalent as a snitch; an inmate who informs prison officials of any illicit activity within the prison system including prisoners and guards|
|Shank||A knife or some functional homemade instrument that can used for the same functionality of a knife|
|Snuffed||A term for anyone who has been murdered|
|Seg||A term meaning isolation or the punishment block|
- Mayr, A. 2012. Prison Language. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics.
- Little, Bert (Summer 1982). "Prison Lingo: A Style of American English Slang" (PDF). Anthropological Linguisitcs. 24: 206–244.
- Devlin, Angela (1996). Prison Patter: A Dictionary of Prison Words and Slang. Waterside Press. ISBN 9781872870410.
|Look up Appendix:U.S. prison slang in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- The Prison Slang Dictionary, written by a currently incarcerated inmate
- Prison Slang (US and UK)
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