Hoosegow, a Western U.S. slang term meaning prison, comes from the Spanish juzgado, a word for court or tribunal. The OED lists one early instance of the phrase from 1911, and historical Google News searches show that the word was widespread by the ‘20s. An ngram graphing occurrence of the word in the 20th century suggests it had peaked by midcentury.

Today, writers still use hoosegow for its old-timey, colloquial ring, and it tends to appear in fiction and as a quirky affectation in other types of writing, but it’s no longer a widely used slang term.


It doesn’t mean that every common sot who comes to the hoosegow will have the elevating influence of the new equipment. [Pittsburgh Press (1929)]

In a wild brawl that was rougher than New Year’s eve in the hoosegow, Pittsburgh’s punishing Panthers pounded out a 20-14 win over the Trojans last night. [Los Angeles Times (1957)]

The incumbent being on his way to the hoosegow, the Rev. Jesse Jackson is under intense pressure to seek the mayoralty of our nation’s capital. [Victoria Advocate (1990)

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]

Rapscallions and ne’er-do-wells shall be tossed willy-nilly into the little town’s antique hoosegow. [Mail Tribune]

2 thoughts on “Hoosegow”

  1. Hoosegow was used was used alternately with “the slammer”, “the clink” and other jail terms during my growing years. I use it still. Great word.

  2. The “striped hotel” or “the barry place” (lots of bars (iron bars)).

    Hoosegow might not be in common everyday use but it’s certainly understood what it implies – unless you just climbed out from under a rock and have absolutely no feel for idiomatic english.


Leave a Comment