Prison slang

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Clink Street, London. Site of Clink Prison, one of England's oldest prisons and origin of the slang "In Clink". Now home to a museum of the prison, the remains of Winchester Palace and a Starbucks.

Prison slang is an argot used primarily by criminals and detainees in correctional institutions. It is a form of anti-language.[1] Many of the terms deal with criminal behavior, incarcerated life, legal cases, street life, and different types of inmates. Prison slang varies depending on institution, region, and country.[2] Prison slang can be found in other written forms such as diaries, letters, tattoos, ballads, songs, and poems.[2] 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". Terms can also lose meaning or become obsolete such as "slammer" and "bull-derm."[2]


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 prison slang are quite old. For example, "to cart", meaning to transfer to another prison, has been in use in Glasgow since 1733.[1]

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.[3] 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.[3] Studies by Alicja Dziedzic-Rawska from the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Poland describe prison slang as "extremely rich and creative" with new words being formed on a daily basis. These are mainly used as a means of security against unauthorized parties receiving a certain message and, in some cases, can be a way to ensure a prison inmate's survival within the cells.[4]


Term[5] Definition
Bang A drug injection (other terms include 'fix', 'hit' or 'shot').
Chief The title prisoners are expected to use to address prison officers
The boneyard Protective custody
Booshwa/fit Syringe
Bupe/subbie Buprenorphine/subutex
Cellie Cellmate
Cockatoo An inmate tasked with alerting other inmates that prison officers are approaching
Crim Criminal/inmate
Dog An informant
Greens Prison clothing
Laggon Prison sentence
The pound Solitary confinement
Red light 'Red light' is the code-word used by inmates to warn that prison officers are approaching
Screw Pejorative term for prison officer
Scrim Pejorative term for inmates who work in clerical positions within the prison. Portmanteau of 'Screw' and 'Crim'.
Segro Segregation wing
Shiv Makeshift stabbing weapon
Spinner An inmate acting strangely, highly associated with mental health issues
Sweeper An inmate paid by the prison to do domestic duties
Turtles The Squad. Specially trained and heavily equipped prison officers tasked with searching cells and riot control
Uncle Bully An inmate convicted of child sex offences; a reference to a character from the film Once Were Warriors.


Term[6] Definition
Abu-antar Show-off
Antenna Police informer
Aron Rifle
Awacs Translates to "intelligence airplane," means "police informer"
Brara Arabic slang for "inferior fruit," means "criminals"
Cachol meza'azea Translates to "shocking blue," means "police car"
Caftor Translates to "button," means "policeman" or "police guard"
Chanjar Arabic term for the word, "knife"
Cochav Fool
Columbia Prison full of drugs (in reference to the country, Columbia)
Cova'im Swiss francs
Dag shamen Translates to "fat fish," means "a person/inmate who can be robbed easily"
Duvdevan Opium
Efronot parsiim Translates to "Persian pencils," means "Persian cocaine"
Ekdah Injector
Exhauster Translates to "muffler," means "homosexual"
Galgalim Translates to "wheels," means "ball-shaped hashish"
Ganoov Translates to "stolen," means "fool"
Glickstein Heroin (in reference to Israeli tennis player, "the White sport")
Gushim Translates to "blocks," means "ground grains of heroin"
Harman Wanting to use drugs
Hayalim Translates to "soldiers," means "inmates who obey the boss"
Indian Arabs
Intifada Arabic for "uprising," means to terrorize
Kipa aduma Translates to "Little Read Riding Hood," means "ambush"
Klavim Translates to "dogs," means "inmates who obey the boss"
Krav hatoolim Translates to "cat fight," means "lots of noise without violence"
Kufsa Brain
Kussa Arabic for "zucchini", means "to cut up"
Litfok To inject (a drug)
Lool Prison cell
Madroob Arabic slang for "crazy," means "a violent prisoner"
Malon Prison
Melech hata Translates to "king of the castle," means "prison leader"
Mizvada Translates to "suitcase," means "an inmate who delivers drugs in his rectum"
Muzikai Unreliable
Na'alayim Translates to "shoes," means "submissive"
Naknik Translates to "sausage," means "an inmate who does not follow or act by the inmate code"
Narkis Drug addict
Nofel al halashim Annoying
Pa'amon Translates to "bell," means "annoying" or "noisemaker"
Pagaz Translates to "artillery," means "a cigar filled with tobacco and hashish"
Patsooa Collaborator
Picasso Face wound
Poel Drug dealer
Puntcher Translates to "flat fire," means "a stabbing"
Re'evim Translates to "hungry ones," refers to dogs trained to discover hashish
Rich-rach Cuts
Sandwich Homosexual intercourse
Shafan Translates to "rabbit," means "coward"
Shagrir Homosexual
Shalach lo zer Translates to "send him a bouquet," means "liquidated"
Sharshuchot Arabic slang for "prostitute," means "police staff" or "prison staff"
Shiltonot Police or prison staff
Shofech shinaim Translates to "spilling teeth," means "to hit" or "to wound"
Shokolad Translates to "chocolate," means "hashish"
Shvilim Drugs arranged in rows
Soos Translates to "horse," means "stupid"
Tapet Homosexual
Tarnegolim Drugs wrapped for insertion in rectum
Telephone A tool used to smoke hashish
Tistakel al haramzorim Translates to "look at the traffic lights," means "we are being followed"
Tractor A tool used to smoke hashish
Tsipor Translates to "bird," means "prison guard" or "an officer who cooperates with inmates"
Tsolelan Translates to "deep-sea diver," means "oral sex"
Wisach Arabic slang for "contaminated," means "police staff" or "prison staff"
Wiseh Arabic for "dirty," means "police informer"
Yatsa letayel Translates to "went for a walk," means "kidnapped"
Zonda Homosexual rape

New Zealand[edit]

Term Definition
Blue Fight
Boneyard Area where protected prisoners are housed
Brick Ten year sentence
Brasco Toilet
Boss Prison officer
Bro Maori/polynesian
Chief The chief officer; the highest ranking prison officer
Cellie Cellmate
Chat A dirty/untidy inmate
Cockatoo A lookout for prison officers approaching
Con Prisoner/inmate
Dog An informant
Greens Prison clothing
Gronk An irritating inmate
Ma'am Female prison officer
Pig/screw Pejorative terms for prison officers
Pound Solitary confinement
Rock spider Paedophile
Segro Segregation of an inmate
Scrim Pejorative term for inmates who work in a position perceived to be of importance
Spinner A prisoner with mental health issues

United Kingdom[edit]

Term Definition
Chokey Category A prison.
Block/Box Solitary confinement.
Lifer A prisoner serving a life sentence.
Nerk/nirk Stupid/unpleasant person/inmate. Term of abuse used to the face.
Nonce A person in prison for offences against children. Origin of the word is disputed, however originally applied to any segregated prisoner.
Pompey Northern England slang for a prison,[7] possibly originating from a notorious prison ship named HMS Pompee, that was anchored in Portsmouth Harbour in the early nineteenth century.
Porridge One time main meal (alleged) used as term for doing a prison sentence. Popularised by the popular BBC series Porridge – which in turn popularized many prison slang words. The term 'Stir' also meaning time spent inside, is a derivation from the term Porridge.
Screw Prison Officer – probably originating from a Victorian form of punishment involving a wheel to be turned on which a screw could be turned to make it more or less difficult. Possibly also from the pattern of walking to the end of a row of cells, turning, and walking back, constantly rotating like a screw
Slop out Time reserved for prisoners to clean out human waste accumulated during lock up times.
Snout/burner A cigarette. Snout generally refers to tobacco or cigarettes when used as currency within prison.
Squealer, Rat, Grass, Nark An informant.
Stir Serving a sentence.
Shank An improvised stabbing weapon.

United States[edit]

Term[3] Definition
Bagman Someone who is in possession of drugs
Bang[8] A drug injection (other terms include 'fix', 'hit' or 'shot')
Chester Slang term for an inmate incarcerated for child molestation
Chicken Money
Chomo Another slang term for an inmate incarcerated for child molestation
Take Flight To initiate a fight with or jump another inmate
The Wall A place where prison justice is dispensed through violence
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/Jody A person who is not incarcerated and is having sexual relations with an inmate's wife
Rat An Informant (an inmate who informs prison officials of any illicit activity within the prison system including prisoners and guards)
Shank/Shiv An improvised stabbing weapon
Snuffed A term for anyone who has been murdered
Seg A term meaning solitary confinement (from the official term "administrative segregation")
C.O./D.O. Correctional Officer/Detention Officer


Term[9] Definition
Base Mattress
Bomb Explosive or banned commodities
Boma Prison
Bongirlfaya Translates to the word "wildcat," means "peeping" (in reference to a cat's vision and sly behavior)
Cash Money/bathing soap (due to soap being a commodity)
Chitima Translates to the word "train," means "inmates who water the garden in a 'line' form"
Chikepe Translates to the words "boat" or "ship," means "escaping from prison" (an allusion to a lonely ship smoothly sailing in a large sea)
Chikopokopo Translates to the word "helicopter," means "tractor" (an allusion to a tractor's noise in a quiet environment)
Chibhonda A person who was homeless or living on the streets before they arrived to prison
Chibhengebhenge Translates to "useless person," means "noise" (an idiophone of a person's unproductive speech)
Dambarefu Translates to "long play," means "a life sentence or a sentence that is less than ten years" (in reference to the Long Play Record)
Dzokufa Translates to "beans," means "the dead ones" (in reference to dried beans)
Gavhunga Roughly cut green vegetables
Gumbakumba Translates to "UD Nissan truck used to transport prisoners," means "collect" or "grab" (in reference to the Shona idiom that a person or animal that is not picky collects anything and everything)
Gozhla Groceries
Ginyabvu Translates to "an inmate charged with rape," means "to force" or "forcefully take"
Getsi getsi pascreen Translates to "opening statement when someone is telling a story or movie," means "power" or "light on the screen"
Jega mudhuri Translates to "leaning on the wall when the officers are counting prisoners in the cells," means "to carry the wall"
Kaza Car
Kule A respectful way of saying "grandfather" or "uncle"
Kudhonza tambo Translates to "pretending to be sick", means "to pull a string" (in reference to wasting time)
Kucheka Translates to "sexual intercourse," means "to cut" (could be in reference to homosexual sex, painful sex, or could be used by inmates to throw off officers from its original meaning)
Makadhibhokisi Translates to "an inmate who leaks information to prison officers," means a snitch (in reference to the image of leaking)
Mwana Translates to "child" (in reference to a man taking a female role)
Matabawo Tablets/medication
Mutsara Translates to "line," means "meat" (in reference to meat being a scarce commodity, thus becoming a "line" to opportunities)
Musoro wechitima Translates to "head of the train," means "gang leader"
Munyoro Translates to "soft one," means "a new inmate"
Muchini Translates to "machine," means "needle"
Mbuya A respectful way of saying "grandmother" or "aunt"
Mavhiri mudenga Translates to "wheels in the air," means a beating underneath the feet
Mari Translates to "money," refers to commodities that can be traded
Ngayaya Marijuana
Nzondora Translates to "chicken feet," refers to homosexual (in reference to chicken feet being a delicacy, could be in reference to enjoying something pleasurable)
Noczim Cooking oil (in reference to the acronym for National Oil Company of Zimbabwe)
Ndege Maniac or mentally-challenged
OK (Supermarket) Rubbish pit
Panze Outside
Police A snitch (in reference to an inmate cooperating with the police who is then considered an ally of the police)
Razor A small space where an inmate sleeps on
Stodart Story telling or movie watching
Seridha Cell
Shop dambu Translates to "breaking a shop," means shoplifting (in reference to breaking into a shop and shoplifting)
Thornhill Maniac or mentally-challenged (in reference to the Thornhill Airbase, an allusion to an airplane)
TV (television) Window
TM (Supermarket) Rubbish pit
Whiters Fresh or sour cow's milk
Zvibhezhi A hospital, clinic, or dispensary
Zviwanikwa Translates to "discoverable," means illegal items (in reference to valuable commodities)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mayr, A. 2012. Prison Language. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics.
  2. ^ a b c Newman, John G.; Dossena, Marina; Łodej, Sylwester (2015-12-31). Token: A Journal of English Linguistics (Volume 4). Jan Kochanowski University of Kielce.
  3. ^ a b c Little, Bert (Summer 1982). "Prison Lingo: A Style of American English Slang". Anthropological Linguistics. 24 (2): 206–244. JSTOR 30027838.
  4. ^ Dziedzic-Rawska, Alicja (2016-07-27). "Linguistic creativity in American prison settings". Lublin Studies in Modern Languages and Literature. 40 (1): 81. doi:10.17951/lsmll.2016.40.1.81. ISSN 0137-4699.
  5. ^ Hildebrand, Joe (April 28, 2017). "Your complete guide to prison slang". Archived from the original on March 11, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  6. ^ Einat, Tomer; Einat, Haim (September 2000). "Inmate Argot as an Expression of Prison Subculture: Israeli Case". The Prison Journal. 80 (3): 309–325. doi:10.1177/0032885500080003005. S2CID 14450588.
  7. ^ "Why is Portsmouth called Pompey?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on March 11, 2019. Retrieved June 17, 2018.
  8. ^ Devlin, Angela (1996). Prison Patter: A Dictionary of Prison Words and Slang. Waterside Press. ISBN 9781872870410.
  9. ^ Sabao, Collen; Gohodzi, Isheanesu; Phiri, Fiona Mtulisi (2019). "Zimbabwean prison argot". JULACE: Journal of the University of Namibia Language Centre. 4 (1): 29–48. doi:10.32642/julace.v4i1.1423. ISSN 2026-8297.

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