UK Prison SlangA
A carpet – A three-month sentence. Derived from “the length of time it took an inmate to make a rug for his or her cell in the prison workshop”. Presently also used to refer to a three-year sentence.
A four – A four-year sentence.
A two – A two-year sentence.
Acki – A fellow Muslim.
Across the pavement – To rob banks or security vans. Derived from The Wembley Mob’s habit of driving their getaway car across the pavement to block their target bank’s entrance, pioneered throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Adidas sex-case – Prison issue plimsolls.
An eight – An eight-year sentence.
Animal – A paedophile.
Apple / Apple core – Rhyming slang, meaning 20 years or £20, from ‘score’.
Apps – Prisoner applications, for example applying to make phone calls.
April – A weapon, from the rhyme April fool > tool. B
Baboot – Inhaling heroin through a makeshift tube.
Bacon / Bacon head – A paedophile (rhyming, Bonce (Head) > Nonce).
Bag head – Heroin addict.
Banana suit – Prison issue, high-viz yellow clothing worn by escapers after their attempt to abscond.
Bang weights – To work out in the prison gym.
Bang-Out / Banging-Out – To beat up.
Bang-up / Banging-Up – To lock in a cell.
Bare – Plenty.
Baron – An old-fashioned term for the prisoner who would run the black market on each prison wing.
Barry – To act cocky. From Barry McGuigan > big ’un.
Bash – To masturbate.
Basic / Put on Basic – Confined to cell with removal of privileges (television, books, etc.)
Battle taxi – Any police vehicle used to transport riot squad officers to an incident or protest.
Beast – A paedophile.
Bed and breakfast – A night in the punishment block before appearing in front of the governor for adjudication, or an overnight stay in any prison while on the way to another one.
Bed-leg – a home-made cosh, commonly made by placing a small section of steel pipe used to separate prison bunks into a sock.
Bend-up / Bending up – Painful martial arts pressure holds, forcing the body out of shape, as practised by the extraction teams sent to deal with uncooperative prisoners.
Bilking – Eluding payment for goods or services by making a quick getaway.
Bin – A Prison.
Billy Big Bollocks / Charlie Big Spuds / Jack the Biscuit – Generic insults for anybody “giving it the Barry”; a bully who may have a tendency to fold when confronted.
Bird / Doing Bird – Serving a prison sentence (from the rhyming slang – bird lime, or ‘time’). In the Victorian era, many prison walls were smeared with bird excrement, to make them slippery and difficult to climb.
Blag / Blagging – To rob.
Blitzing – A shoplifting spree. Blitzers work in threes – one to create a distraction, one to sweep a whole shelf of goods away, and a third waiting in a getaway car.
Block – The punishment block.
Bomb Squad – Prisoners sent to clean an area into which excrement has been thrown from the windows of the prison.
Boob – A prison.
Borstal – Derives from the first British juvenile prison, just outside the Kent village of Borstal.
Boss – A Prison Officer.
Bottle squad – An undercover squad specialising in investigating and catching pickpockets, by mingling with crowds in public places to try to catch them at work. Derived from the underworld slang for a pickpocket, “on the bottle”, meaning to follow someone closely (from the rhyming slang – bottle and glass > arse; “be on someone’s arse”).
Box – A cell within a cell.
Brew – Alcohol.
Budgie syndrome – Prison body-builders who obsess over their appearance in the mirror.
Bujo game / Bag game – A Gypsy fortune-telling trick that goes back at least 200 years, involving convincing the victim that their money has been cursed, after which the Gypsies perform a “bait and switch”.
Burglars – Prison security or ‘DST’ (‘Dedicated Search Team’).
Burn – Tobacco.
Burn Cat – A Tobacco Addict.
Butts – Cigarette butts. C
Cage – A cell within a cell.
Cat – A prisoner.
CHIMPS – A nickname for Police Community Support Officers, considered to be “Completely Hopeless In Most Policing Situations”.
China – Mate, from the rhyming slang “china plate”.
Chip-net – The safety net strung between block landings.
Chokey – The punishment block where offenders are held in isolation. Stems from the Hindu word for lock-up, “cauki”.
Clipboarding – Wearing a hi-viz jacket and holding a clipboard so as to steal or trespass without hinderance by members of the public.
Commy burgs – Commercial burglars, who break into warehouses, shops or factories to steal.
Copsicles – Police officers who patrol on bicycles in all weather.
Creeper – A burglar who moves silently around a house, stealing while the occupiers are present.
Cucumbers / Numbers / Protection – Sex offenders and other ‘sensitive’ prisoners (debtors, grasses, and cell thieves) isolated for their own safety.
Custard – Television, from the rhyming slang “custard and jelly” > telly. D
Diesel – Prison tea made in a copper boiler with a single, giant home-made tea bag. So called because of the film of rainbow scum that floats on the top, like oil in a puddle.
Dipper – A pickpocket.
Doggy’s – An illegal street trader’s accomplice, drawn from the rhyming slang “doggy’s eye” > spy.
Double bubble – Two for one.
Down the Brink – Segregated.
Dragger – A professional car thief. Derived from the Romany word “drag”, referring to horse dragging its load along the ‘main drag’, or road.
Drum – A house.
Drummer – A 1920s term for a burglar who can get into places that are “as tight as a drum”.
Drumming – To burgle. E
Echo – A prison’s exercise yard.
Ekky – The police. The word derives from ‘ECILOP’ (as it appears in a rear-view mirror) > ‘EKKYLOP’ > ‘Ekky’.
E-Man – A prisoner forced to wear an orange jumper, to represent a previous escape attempt.
EPP – Extended Sentence for Public Protection. F
Fence – A receiver of stolen goods. Originally a dockers’ term, referring to the practice of selling or passing stolen goods over the docks’ perimeter fence.
Fido – Police acronym for “Fuck it, drive on”, referring to a crime or offence judged unworthy of attention.
Firm – An organised criminal gang.
Fraggle – A vulnerable prisoner.
FTS – Short for “Fuck the System”, commonly used by prisoners to sign off prison mail to their peers. G
Ghost / Ghosting – The transfer of a prisoner from one prison to another without warning, used to disorient and keep them away from contacts.
Ghosted – To be stood up by a prison visitor.
Ghost train – To spend one’s entire sentence being ghosted.
Golden Hour – The period between 08.00-09.00, when prisoners fill out their request applications. The word is thought to originate from HMP Winchester.
Gov – A prison officer.
Grass – An informer.
Green – Cannabis.
Growlers – An 18th-century criminal term for pistols, which were also known as barkers because of the noise they made when fired.
Gwap – Money. H
Have it up! – A word used to warn fellow criminals the police are coming, originally coined by illegal street traders.
Hench – Big or well-built.
Hijack – To stop a vehicle and rob it. Derives from Prohibition-era America, when hijackers would approach their victims with a friendly “Hi, Jack” to allay suspicion before the act itself.
Hobbit shop – A prison workshop where inmates carry out ultra-low paid, mind-numbing, and repetitious manual work.
Hotplate hamster – A prison officer who obtains duty by the food-serving hotplates to get free food.
Hundred-yard hero – Someone insulting police from a great distance. I
IC8 – Referring to a male with ginger hair, this is a play on the UK police identification codes denoting a person’s national or racial origin.
Indeterminate – A prisoner serving a sentence without a set release date.
IPP – An Indefinite Sentence for Public Protection. J
Jack the Rippers – Rhyming slang for ‘prison slippers’.
Jam / Jam roll – Rhyming slang for ‘parole’.
Jammer – A knife, usually homemade.
Jed-eye – Derogatory term for those living across the river Mersey.
Jekyll – Second-level rhyming slang for ‘fake’. Derived from ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ > ‘snide’.
Jiggling – A technique used to break into older vehicles, using a car key in a fast up-and-down and side-to-side action to catch the tumblers in motion.
Jimmy / Jimmy Boyle – Foil used to smoke heroin.
Joey – A parcel of drugs, secreted on or inside a prisoner’s body, the way a kangaroo keeps her baby joey in her pouch.
John Wayne – Prison-issue toilet paper, tough like the cowboys played by the actor. K
Kanga – Used widely in every British prison, this is rhyming slang for a prison officer (‘kangaroo’ > ‘screw’).
Keeping dog – To be a lookout during the commission of a crime.
Kit – Heroin.
Kite – A Cheque.
Kite / Kiting – To pass a fraudulent cheque — so-called as they are “lighter than air”.
Kiter – A forger who passes false cheques or ‘kites’.
Knock out / Knocking one out – To masturbate. L
Lagging – A two-year sentence, long enough for a prisoner to be considered an ‘old lag’.
Left in the lurch – To be abandoned to the mercy of a mob. A ‘lurch’ was an 18th century caged wagon, in which prisoners were paraded on their way to jail.
Little fellas – A phrase for cigarette ends, widely used in Northern prisons.
LOB – Police acronym meaning “load of bollocks”, usually marked on forms and personal notebooks to indicate that the officer does not believe a word of what they are being told.
Lock-down / Locking-down – To lock cells.
L-Plates – A life sentence. M
Marga – A Jamaican word meaning ‘small’, or ‘skinny’.
Mattress job – A beating by police or wardens in a cell, holding a mattress over the prisoner’s body to both muffle their cries and to keep blood off the officers’ uniforms.
Meds – Application to see a medical officer.
Midnight > Rhyming slang for ‘grass’, from ‘Midnight mass’.
Ming on the wing – A police car. ‘Ming’ derives from ‘mingro’, a Romany word meaning someone in authority.
Moon – Month – originating from a lack of clocks inside prison, where inmates could only tell the time of month by the moon.
MOP – Police acronym for “member of the public”, used as shorthand when filling in notebooks and reports.
Mud huts – Rhyming slang for cigarette butts.
Mug off – To show disrespect. N
Nicker – Rhyming slang for a prison chaplain, from ‘vicar’.
Noddy Shop – A prison workshop where mind-numbing tasks are carried out by inmates, such as counting washers and breaking cassette tapes with a toffee hammer.
Nonce – Acronym for a sex offender (especially a paedophile), originating in Wakefield Prison in the 1900s, from the phrase ‘Not On Normal Courtyard Exercise’ (used to protect such prisoners from attacks).
Non-stimulant pack – This is issued weekly to Mormons in British prisons instead of the normal brew pack, containing hot chocolate powder and Ovaltine instead of teabags and coffee sachets.
Nosh – A blowjob; food.
Nostrils – A sawn-off shotgun, so-called because of the appearance of the shortened barrels.
Not a Scooby – I don’t know.
Note in the box – The passing of anonymous tip-offs to prison authorities via the locked outgoing mail box situated in every prison wing. O
On the earhole – Looking for a freebie, cadging. When strict silence was the rule in British prisons, touching your ear was a request in sign language to borrow something.
On top – A warning to run or have a policeman or prison officer ‘on top’ of one.
The Out – The world beyond the prison walls. P
Pad – A cell.
Pad thief – The lowest sort of crook, one who will steal from other cells. A typical punishment for a pad thief is to break his or her fingers by slamming them in a door.
Paraffin – Rhyming slang — a tramp or someone scruffy.
Patches – a prison uniform with prominent yellow panels worn by prisoners captured after an escape or following an attempted escape.
Peelers – Slang for police or cops.
Peter – an older name for a cell, also for a safe.
Pie and liquor – the vicar.
Pilchard – Someone not too bright. Pilchards are such stupid fish that they will swim straight into nets in great numbers.
Polo – If someone tells you they are polo it means they have no money (rhyming slang – Polo mint – skint). Q
Quack – A prison doctor. The word is taken from the Afrikaans word kwaksalwer, meaning a hawker of salve. Probably from the Afrikaans kwaksalwer, meaning a “hawker of salve”, or somebody who sells medicines, this is a prison doctor. They are doctors, but not as you know them. Though it doesn’t apply to everyone, in my own personal experience of more than three decades of imprisonment, the majority of prison doctors don’t really prioritise their bedside manner and are more interested in pleasing the governor than in easing pain or healing the sick. Most are prison officers who have taken a first aid course which entitles them to wear a white coat and work in the prison hospital, dispensing aspirin and plasters. They are not to be confused with real doctors. R
Radio Rental – Rhyming slang for someone who is mentally ill.
Raze-Up / Razing-Up – To Cut with A Razor, as in ‘I’ll raze you up.’
Ride / Riding My Bang – To Spend Time in Prison
Rifle – I worked once with a market trader who was hassled by a punter for a refund. On one occasion, my mate got fed up and told me to ‘get the rifle’. The punter legged it, terrified we were going to shoot him. What he didn’t realise was the a ‘rifle’ is a bag of small change. It’s rhyming slang – rifle range is ‘change’.
Roast / Roasting – Hanging About While Expecting Something to Happen
RTFL – Used between police officers, this stands for “Read the fucking log” – an instruction for officers to familiarise themselves with the log recording what has been going on before they come on duty.
Rub-Down / Rubbing Down – To Search a Cell
Rush-In / Rushing-In – To restrain a prisoner in his or her cell, prior to moving him. S
Salmon / Salmon and trout – Snout – tobacco.
Scissoring is using a large pair of stainless-steel scissors – insert the point into the lock, wrench them up and down to break the tumblers, give them a quick twist, and the lock should spring open. It should take no more than a few seconds.
Screw – Prison Officer
Send-out – A lackey or low-level gang member who is ordered to do all the errands.
Shank – A Knife, usually a homemade one
Shipped Out / Shipping Out – To be transferred from one prison to another without warning
Shit and a shave / or shit and a shower – a short sentence.
Shiv – A Knife, usually a homemade one
Shoulder surfers – Criminals who peep over the shoulders of ‘targets’ at cashpoints. Sometimes they are trying to spot the PIN before nicking the card, other times they just grab the cash and run. Cocky ones drop a fiver, point it out to the person withdrawing money and then nick his or her card and cash when he bends down to pick up the bait.
Sixteen-sixty-four – Police slang for an ugly streetwalker, who might look 16 from behind, but who is more like 64 from the front.
Skins – Cigarette Papers
Slaughter – The place where criminals meet after a robbery to carve up the proceeds.
Smoker – An old banger, a cheap car without a MoT or car tax. The vehicle of choice for many criminals. Because it isn’t registered, it can’t be traced to previous crimes, and because it’s worth next to nothing, crashing it or abandoning it is no big drama. Police reckon there are more than 10,000 ‘smokers’ on the roads.
Snitch – An Informer
Snout – Tobacco
Snowdropper – Someone who steals clothes from a washing line to sell to a rag dealer. Popular in Victorian times when cotton and linen sheets stolen from the gardens of well-to-do homes fetched good money. These days, snow-droppers usually go for designer clothing. Although it can be a fairly profitable crime, it is still way down on the scale of serious theft and is practised mainly by kids and amateurs.
Spanish archer – A ‘Dear John’ letter, the end of a relationship, because you’re getting the Spanish archer . . . ‘El bow’.
Spin / Spinning – To search a cell
Starburst – Suspects fleeing in all directions from a car after a police chase.
Starred Up’ – Transferal from juvenile jail / young offenders to adult jail
Stiff – a smuggled note.
Straightener – An attack that is pre-arranged. A ‘lesson’.
Stretch – a sentence or a year (a ’10 stretch’ is a 10-year sentence).
Sweeper – Someone who collects cigarette butts.
Swing / Swinging a Line – Cell to Cell Communication, often by meanings of swinging a piece of string from one cell to another. Swinging a line – The art of transferring contraband from one cell to another, along a string woven from blanket threads. There’s a real knack to throwing the end of the line to a neighbouring cell — usually it will be weighted with a bar of soap or a battery wrapped in a sock. Once the line is in place, notes, drugs and even weapons can be passed along. T
Tear-Up / Tearing-Up – To Beat up
Tech – A mobile phone.
Telephone line – A scar running from mouth to ear, usually inflicted as a sign that a man is an informer.
The Aways – Members of a gang who are not present, because they are unfortunately away at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
The batter squad – Prison guards who attack the inmates mob-handed.
The enchanted – prisoners on the ‘Enhanced Privilege Level’.
The other people – This term may be London specific, as I’ve never heard anyone from outside the Smoke using it. It’s a name for the police, as in “Don’t trust the geezer, I hear he’s been having a trade with the other people.”
The Out – This is how prisoners refer to the big world outside of the prison walls and fences, as in “I knew him on The Out”. The Out is where all prisoners long to be. And, yes, it should always have capital letters.
The Swedey – Plainclothes coppers from outside London. It’s a play on Sweeney (rhyming slang — Sweeney Todd, ‘Flying Squad’) and ‘swede-bashers’, which is what the Met call anyone who isn’t from London.
Three Ns – Offensive police slang for any woman who is dressed unattractively. It stands for@ ‘No mum, No mates, No mirror.’
Tinned pork – A patrol car — that is, a tin can with ‘pigs’ or police officers in it.
Toby – Rhyming slang — Toby jug, or ‘mug’. Any punter who is gullible and ripe for ripping off.
Toe the line – To obey the rules, even if this means a beating. It derives from bare knuckle boxing, when a line would be drawn on the ground — after every knockdown, a fighter had to get up and stand with his or her toes on the line.
Touching dogs’ arses – The charge of stealing cars used to be called TDA (Taking and Driving Away a motor vehicle), and young criminals found it amusing to insult amateur car thieves by saying they were into touching dogs’ arses. Amateur car thieves steal cars just for the fun of it.
Tram lines – a distinctive scar caused by a prison-made weapon which uses two razor blades melted into a toothbrush.
Turtle doves – Rhyming slang — ‘gloves’. These were once an essential bit of any criminal’s kit to ensure he didn’t leave fingerprints or DNA in drops of blood. In some cases, merely having a pair of ‘turtles’ on your person could be enough for the police to charge you with ‘going equipped to commit a crime’. These days, forensics experts can often match marks left at a crime scene to the criminal’s gloves.
Twirls – A set of keys, often fake car keys. So called because a thief would ‘twirl’ them in the door lock until the tumblers sprang open. U
Undies – Undies is youth slang for undercover police officers. Unfortunately, the laws of the UK do not include a defence of agent provocateur (as does the law in some countries), so if a police officer (undercover or in plain sight) incites a citizen to commit a crime there would be no defence for that citizen. Watch out for the undies! V
Vanilla – A Judge (Rhyming Slang, Vanilla Fudge)
Vegetable patch – The spread of chairs around the communal prison TV. When a prisoner ends up as a regular in the patch, he has become a ‘cabbage’ or a ‘hobbit’ — an insult, identifying someone who has given up fighting the system and is content to simply do his or her bird. Communal seating area where some prisoners watch TV. Prisoners who do not watch describe the others as vegetables. Some prisons do not have a specific room for the communal television and so it is placed centrally on the wing and prisoners must bring their cell chairs to sit on. This spread of chairs is usually known as the vegetable patch because it’s where the “vegetables” (those who want to watch) sit. When a prisoner ends up in the vegetable patch they are classed as a cabbage or Cabbage Patch Kid (after the freaky-looking American dolls of the 1980s), or as a hobbit.
Veras – Rhyming slang — Vera Lynns or ‘skins’, which are cigarette papers. Not to be confused with a Vera and Phil, which is a Vera Lynn and Philharmonic Orchestra, or ‘gin and tonic’.
Verbals – An account in court of what a suspect said when arrested, often made up by the arresting police officer and scribbled in his or her notebook later. A mate of mine once declared, loudly and repeatedly, when arrested – ‘It’s a fair cop, guv.’ When the prosecution reported this in court, the jury naturally assumed my mate was being fitted up by a dishonest and very unimaginative copper. They acquitted him.
Visit / Visiting – To Leave the Prison, as in – ‘I’m going visiting.’ W
Walk-in – An audacious theft, where the crook is well dressed and oozes confidence. Typically, he’ll breeze into an office as though he belongs there, usually carrying a large briefcase, and snatch laptops, phones and handbags from unattended desks.
Wetting up – Also known as ‘jugging’ — a vicious prison punishment normally reserved for informers and sex offenders. A jug or bucket is filled from the hot water boiler and a pound of sugar mixed in, to make a blistering syrup that sticks to the skin. The liquid is thrown in the victim’s face, and it burns the flesh away down to the bone.
Wet-up (or Jug-up) – to scald someone, usually with a mixture of boiling water and sugar.
Whack-Up / Whacking-Up – To Beat up
Whizzer / Whiz mob – Slang for a pickpocket or a gang of them. Whiz mobs used to work the crowds at racecourses, stealing from rich punters. The “whiz” has to do with the speed with which these criminals worked. These slang terms for a pickpocket have largely fallen out of vogue since their heyday in the 1940s and 50s. Whiz mobs used to work the crowds at racecourses, picking pockets then blending into the throng. The origin of “whiz” is uncertain, but some people say it’s to do with the speed with which these criminals could dip a crowd.
Window warrior / Winda warrior – Mouthy convicts who pass the time by yelling insults from their cell windows at each other. This heckling and banter can often turn nasty and lead to fights.
Wood – An Erection
Wrap-Up / Wrapping-Up – To restrain a prisoner in his or her cell, prior to moving him
Wrong-un – A Paedophile Y
Yog – A gun. From the Romany.
You want some? – Battle cry that often precedes fights between inmates on prison landings. Z
Zombie – A zombie is what the police call an officer close to retirement and now merely going through the motions. It can also mean a lazy officer.
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