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The Parramatta Jail Glossary: An Edition with Commentary

In 1972, a group of prisoners at Parramatta Jail in Sydney put together a glossary of prison words and phrases. It is a list of 362 words with definitions.

Many of the terms describe life in the prison, including sentences and punishments (black peter, sloughed up, zack) , the psychological effects of incarceration (boob happy, stir-crazy, go off the bars), food and drink (moosh, chew and spew, musical milk) and male to male sex (cat, hock, Rudolf Vaselino, a ride there for a ride back). Others come from the prisoners’ encounters with police and the legal system or from the prisoners’ place in a wider underworld or criminal culture.

The book examines the social functions of underworld and prison slang, especially its role in creating a world that stands in opposition to the ‘ordinary’ world that most of us inhabit. It shows that prison language is the cement that holds together the structure of the prisoners’ alternative reality.

The major part of the book is a detailed edition of the words and phrases that make up the Parramatta Jail Glossary. It explains what the words mean and where they came from. There are extensive quotations from texts such as newspapers, novels, and autobiographies that illustrate how the words in the glossary are used in speech and writing. They bring to life the social world of the prisoners.

Many of the entries provide early evidence about Australian words and meanings. This book is an important contribution to our understanding of the history of Australian English.

Print ISBN: 978-0-6459550-0-2 RRP $29.99

Epub ISBN: 978-0-6459550-1-9 RRP $14.99

Bruce Moore was editor of the 2016 edition of the Australian National Dictionary, and from 1994 to 2011 was director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University. His book Speaking Our Language: The Story of Australian English (2008) is the standard account of the history of Australian English.