Hoosegow – Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Have you ever heard of the word “hoosegow” and wondered to yourself what in the heck that even means? When I first heard it, I thought the person had made it up, but it turns out it’s a real word with a history behind it. It’s a slang term that’s been around for a while, and I will talk about its history and show you how to use it.

What Is a Hoosegow?

Hoosegow Origin Meaning

Hoosegow sounds like a silly willy word made up by kids, but it’s a slang term for a jail or prison. We’re supposed to use it humorously or even ironically, and you’ll find it in western movies or literature more so than anywhere else.

Although, it’s not really a common word at all. We would typically see words like slammer and clink used in this context. An ngram graphing the occurrence of the word in the 20th century suggests it had peaked by mid-century.

Hoosegow Ngram
Hoosegow usage trend.

Where Did the Term Hoosegow Come from?

The origin of hoosegow was derived from a Spanish word called “juzgado,” which means courthouse, courtroom, or tribunal. When juzgado was brought over to the United States, it was likely changed to “hoosegow” due to the influence of other languages and dialects. Although, I don’t see a correlation between how they arrived in hoosegow from juzgado!

Hoosegow Synonyms

So, we know that hoosegow means jail or prison, but it’s always used in a lighthearted manner or even in a joking way. So, jail or prison isn’t really a synonym you should use. Instead, try:

  • Clink
  • Slammer
  • Joint
  • Pokey
  • The can

Hoosegow Pronunciation

When saying hoosegow, it should be pronounced like hoos-gau. Put your emphasis on the first syllable. Also, the more you say the word, the more it loses all meaning. I’ve said it to myself so much while writing this that it just sounds like jibberish.

How Do You Use Hoosegow in a Sentence?

  • The sheriff threw him in the hoosegow for the night so that he could sober up.
  • No, Mommy! I don’t want to end up in hoosegow for stealing a candy bar. I’m sorry!
  • They finally caught the fugitive and returned him to a hoosegow where he belonged.
  • My brother just got out of hoosegow for petty theft.
  • Oh, he’s not a real cop; he’s just a hoosegow guard.
  • Make sure to do your taxes properly, or they’ll throw you in the hoosegow!
  • If you don’t clean your room, the policeman will come and put you in the hoosegow.

At the end of which, authorities showed up and tossed him back in the hoosegow because they’d only given him permission to do the “Today” interview. [Washington Post]

Don’t End Up in the Hoosegow

So, I know it’s not a common word you often hear being thrown around, but I assure you it’s real and widely accepted. Just remember that it’s a fun way to joke around and refer to jail or prison. And the next time you hear it come up in a movie or T.V. show, you’ll know what it means!

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered: