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. 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 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. 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.
Stupid/unpleasant person/inmate. Term of abuse used to the face.
A person in prison for offences against children. Originally a 19th century acronym for Not On Normal Courtyard Exercise, denoting prisoners that that to be segregated from the general prison populace for their own protection.
Northern England slang for a prison, possibly originating from a notorious prison ship named Pompee, that was anchored in Portsmouth Harbour in the early nineteenth century.
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.
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
Squealer, Rat, Grass
Anyone who gives information to another group – primarily to the prison authorities.