Word of the Week (213): CARCERAL (probability 32386), by David Sutton

CARCERAL means of or relating to prisons.

Not surprisingly the lexicon contains many carceral words. Some are of a euphemistic nature, presumably intended to palliate the unpleasantness of durance vile by an affectation of familiarity: HOOSEGOW (or HOOSGOW), CHOKEY (or CHOKY), POKEY (or POKY), SLAMMER, COOLER, TRONK, CALABOOSE, GLASSHOUSE, the last being slang for a military prison.

Others denote specific types of prison. A STALAG was a German prison camp for prisoners of war; officers went instead to an OFLAG. The GULAG was the system of political prisons and forced labour camps in the USSR, where prisoners served their sentence of KATORGA or penal servitude. A LAOGAI is a Chinese forced labour camp. A BARRACOON was an enclosure or barrack formerly used in Spanish colonies for the temporary confinement of slaves or convicts.

A BRIDEWELL in Victorian times was a house of correction for the poor, taking its name from a palace near St Bride's Well in London. A BORSTAL or BORSTALL was an establishment for the detention of young adult delinquents, what in the US is called a JUVIE.

A MASSYMORE is Sir Walter Scott's word for a subterranean prison; this seems to be a variant or mishearing of MATTAMORE, an underground room, from the Arabic matmurah.

Finally, an OUBLIETTE was a particularly unpleasant form of dungeon, found in some castles, that had an opening only at the top; prisoners were thrown in and left to rot - the name comes from the French oublier, to forget.


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