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1 February 2010

Monday's word - hoosegow

A word for Writers of Westerns today!

Hoosegow:  Once again I'm quoting Michael Quinion

"It's a fine old American slang term for a jail, still widely known today. Most people would connect it with the nineteenth-century cowboys of the Wild West. It's very likely that they knew the word,
but it didn't start to be written down until the early twentieth century. The first known example was penned by Harry Fisher, better known as Bud, in one of his early Mutt & Jeff cartoons, of 1908:
"Mutt ... may be released from the hooze gow."

The word is from Mexican Spanish "juzgao", a jail, which came from "juzgado" for a tribunal or courtroom. It shifted to mean a jail because the two were often in the same building (and the path from the one to the other was usually swift and certain). In sense and language origin it's a relative of "calaboose", which is also a prison (from "calabozo", a dungeon, via the French of Louisiana).

"Hoosegow" is now the standard spelling, though in its early days it was written half a dozen different ways. We link it in our minds with cowboys largely because so much of their lingo was taken from Spanish and then mangled to fit English ideas of the way to say it. That included "buckaroo" (Spanish "vaquero"), "bronco" (from a word
that meant rough or rude), "lasso" ("lazo"), "lariat" ("la reata"), "chaps" ("chaparreras"), "hackamore bridles" ("jáquima") etc."

I'm fascinated by words and am always  intrigued to learn more about  their origins, especially when, like these, they've been 'anglicised' from another language.

*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2009. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewords.org