Slang City Mail

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June 28, 2007

Slang of the Week: the clink (noun phrase)

It was just Mason’s luck. After three years in the clink fantasizing about Paris Hilton, he learned on his release that she was locked up.

Celebrity quote:
“Appearing more demure than devilish, freshly sprung jailbird Paris Hilton went on national TV last night, calling her stay in the clink ‘traumatic’ and her freedom ‘overwhelming.’”

- Bill Hutchinson in The New York Daily News

I suspect that when heiress Paris Hilton was incarcerated earlier this month, many of you felt the same way that I did: sorry for her cellmates. And she’s getting even less sympathy now; US Weekly has banned Paris from their pages and MSNBC anchor Mika Brzezinski crumpled, shredded and attempted to set fire to a story on Hilton’s release yesterday morning so she wouldn’t have to read it. (Watch the destruction:

And yet, here I am writing about our promiscuous, Chihuahua-accessorized friend. Why? Well, all this publicity has taxed the media to come up with interesting slang words for prison. We have the onomatopoeic clink above—if you’ve forgotten, onomatopoeia occurs when a word is based on the sound it makes—in this case, the sound of the metal cell door closing. However, while most references make some connection to Southwark prison, the etymology of this word varies from source to source. Some say Clink was the name of the street, and some say the sound of chains, among other theories.

“As she emerged from the slammer on Tuesday morning, after serving 23 days for drink-driving [sic] offences, heiress Paris Hilton looked like a paragon of virtue,” writes Laura Barton in the UK Guardian Unlimited. Poor Paris! According to media reports, that slammed door triggered panic attacks at the notion that room service would be limited in the ensuing days.

PHOTOS OF PARIS HILTON IN THE CAN!” screams a headline on, even though the pictures show Hilton drinking from a can instead of standing behind bars, as you would expect.

Unlike US Weekly The Boston Herald (a sensational tabloid) loves to write about
Paris. One of their alliterative headlines proclaims, NBC denies post-pokey payday for Paris Hilton.” They also came out with one of the more interesting slang words for prison. In a story describing Hilton’s prison beauty nightmare, it explains that she was “stripped of her hair extensions* when she was hauled into the hoosegow, but she got them back yesterday - her first order of business after spending 22 days behind bars.”  Hoosegow, in use for about 100 years, comes from a mispronunciation of the Mexican Spanish word juzgao, which can be traced back to the Latin judicare (to judge).


* If you don’t know about hair extensions, they’re false hair that you attach to your real hair to make it look longer. One can only assume that prison officials thought a fellow inmate would use them to strangle her.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: The Oxford Dictionary of Slang (Oxford Paperback Reference). This is more a thesaurus than a dictionary, so if you need more prison-related words, check it out and learn about tobacco barons, kites and quods