13 Common Words That Came From Prison Jargon

13 Common Words That Came From Prison Jargon

13 Common Words That Came From Prison Jargon

March 4, 2020


Mayhem, cant, screw up – many of the words that we use every day have a “criminal” origin.
Photo by Danny Orlovsky

Danny Orlovsky

13 Common Words That Came From Prison Jargon



Criminal (prison) jargon, often referred to as fen, is a special dialect of people serving sentences in correctional institutions.

The criminal environment back in the 19th century (and possibly earlier) adopted the slang, originally used by itinerant merchants – ofen (hence the word “fenya” comes from). Russian thieves’ jargon also includes elements from Yiddish, Ukrainian and other languages.

Consider what words from our everyday speech came to us from the prison lexicon.

1. Pont

In the language of slang, this term had several meanings: distraction, benefit, an act performed for show, demonstrative luxury. They began to use the word even in pre-revolutionary times: “You will not throw this show-off in front of the lads.” In the noughties, it was often used mainly by young people to describe pretentiousness or feigned importance (“the guy on the show-off”, “cheap show-off”).

2. Party

Initially, a community of criminals was called a party. Subsequently, the word acquired a more neutral meaning – a group of people united by common interests, or a party.

3. Kent

If now we jokingly call our friend or comrade a kent, then in the criminal world a kent is an accomplice in crime or a person who adheres to criminal concepts: “You still need to look for such kents.”

4. Mayhem

Lawlessness used to be called any departure from the laws of thieves (“He did not want to endure such lawlessness in the zone”), but now the word is commonly used in the meaning of “arbitrariness, lack of rules.”

5. Cant

We call a joint some kind of mistake – significant or not. And in the criminal world, a joint is one prisoner or a group of prisoners, as well as a sidelong glance or oversight: “For this joint, he will have to answer to the lads.”

6. Screw it up

This is already more serious than a joint. To screw up means to completely fail the case and not cope with the task: “I could not imagine that we would screw up like that.” And on the hair dryer, crap is called a shame: “For me personally, this is crap.”

7. Get involved

Let yourself be deceived, believe false promises. For beginners, checks are often arranged in the zones, and the main thing in them is not to get fooled.

8. Bratva

In the criminal sphere, chaps are a collection of members of a certain criminal group, a gang. In ordinary life, we call our buddies, friends, brotherhood.

9. Mower

1,000 cents began to be called a mower in slang, and after that this term penetrated civilian life and successfully entrenched itself in it – especially in the slang of youth. Although, according to the “Historical and Etymological Explanatory Dictionary of the Underworld” by Zaur Zugumov, in Stalin’s time the word had a different meaning: a mower is a prisoner who tried to avoid punishment by causing harm to his health.

10. Kipezh

Despite the fact that the variant “kipish” is more common, the Dictionary of Russian Argo, edited by Vladimir Elistratov, notes only the form “kipezh” and in the same form the word is indicated on the spelling academic resource “Akademos” of the Institute of the Russian Language. V. V. Vinogradova. In the zone, kipezh means a fight, and outside the prison – any noise, confusion or commotion.

11. Snitch

Snitches in places of deprivation of liberty are any scammers who cooperate with the administration. In ordinary life, we can call a snitch or a person who complained – for example, to the authorities.

12. Six

In the zone, a six is ​​a person who serves the thieves: “He had a personal six.” The word has received a much wider use, and a six is ​​called a person of low rank or someone’s henchman.

13. Run into

According to the Dictionary of Russian Argo by Vladimir Elistratov, running into someone means going into conflict, looking for quarrels. The lexeme successfully went beyond the criminal world and began to be used everywhere.

Share in the comments the words we missed. We will make a new selection of the most interesting options.

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