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50 Prison Slang Words To Make You Sound Like a Tough Guy

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We’ve been just a little bit obsessed with old timey and subcultural slang here at the Floss as of late, and today we’re going to mine one of the richest sources for weird slang and code-talk: criminals. Here are some choice bits of prison lingo we’ve gathered from slang dictionaries, true crime stories, prisoners’ memoirs, and correctional officers.

1. All Day: A life sentence, as in “I’m doin' all day.”

2. All Day and a Night: Life without parole.

3. Back door parole: To die in prison.

4. Beef: 1. A criminal charge, as in “I caught a burglary beef in Philly.” 2. A problem with another convict, as in “I have a beef with that guy in Block D.”

5. Brake fluid: Psychiatric meds.

6. Bug: A prison staff member considered untrustworthy or unreliable.

7. Bug juice: Intoxicants or depressant drugs.

8. Buck Rogers Time: (early to mid 20th century) A parole or release date so far away that it's difficult to imagine.

9. Bum Beef: A false accusation/charge or wrongful conviction.

10. Cadillac: An inmate’s bunk. Also, Cadillac Job, an easy or enjoyable inmate work assignment.

11. Catch a ride: A request to a friend to get you high.

12. Cell Warrior: An inmate that puts on a tough front or runs their mouth when locked in their cell, but is submissive or cowardly when interacting with other prisoners in the open.

13. Chin Check: To punch another inmate in the jaw to see if he'll fight back.

14. Cowboy: A new correctional officer. Cowboy spelled backwards, is yobwoc, or a “young, obnoxious, bastard we often con.”

15. Dance on the blacktop: To get stabbed.

16. Diesel Therapy: A lengthy bus trip or transfer to a far away facility, or even an incorrect destination, used as punishment or to get rid of troublesome inmates.

17. Ding Wing: A prison’s psychiatric unit.

18. Dipping in the Kool Aid: Attempting to enter a conversation the person has no place in or is not welcome in.

19. Doing the Dutch Or the “Dutch Act,” to commit suicide.

20. Dry Snitching: To inform on another inmate indirectly by talking loudly about their actions or behaving suspiciously in front of correctional officers; supply general information to officers without naming names.

21. Duck: A correctional officer who reveals information about other officers or prison staff to inmates.

22. Fire on the Line: A warning—“correctional officer in the area.”

23. Ghetto Penthouse: The top tier of a cell block.

24. Four piece or four-piece suit: A full set of restraints, composed of handcuffs, leg irons and waist chain, and security boxes to cover the restraints’ key holes.

25. Grandma’s: Or Grandma’s House, a prison gang’s headquarters or meeting place, or the cell of the gang leader.

26. Heat Wave: The attention brought to a group of inmates by the action of one or a few, as in “Joe and John got caught with contraband, and now the whole tier is going through a heat wave.”

27. Hold your mud: To resist informing or snitching even under threat of punishment or violence.

28. I got jigs: To keep look out or watch for officers, as in “I got jigs while you make that shank.”

29. In the car: In on a deal or a plan.

30. Jacket: 1. An inmate’s information file or rap sheet. 2. An inmate’s reputation among other prisoners.

31. Jack Mack: Canned mackerel or other fish available from the prison commissary. Can be used as currency with other inmates or placed in a sock and used as a weapon.

32. Jackrabbit Parole: To escape from a facility.

33. Juice Card: An inmate’s influence with guards or other prisoners. “He should have gone to the hole for that, but he’s got a juice card with one of the guards.”

34. Keister: To hide contraband in one’s rectum. Also known as “taking it to the hoop,” “putting it in the safe”and “packing the rabbit.”

35. Kite: A contraband letter.

36. Monkey Mouth: A prisoner who goes on and on about nothing.

37. Monster: HIV. Also known as “the Ninja.”

38. Ninja Turtles: Guards dressed in full riot gear. Also known as “hats and bats.”

39. No Smoke: To follow staff’s orders without resisting or causing any problems, as in “He let the guards search his cell, no smoke.”

40. On the Bumper: Trying to get “in the car.”

41. On the River: Time spent at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which is surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River. As in, “He did 20 years on the river.”

42. Peels: The orange jumpsuit uniforms worn by prisoners in some facilities.

43. Prison Wolf: An inmate who is normally straight on “the outside,” but engages in sexual activity with men while incarcerated.

44. Rabbit: An inmate who has a history of escape attempts or has plans to try to escape.

45. Ride with: To do favors for a fellow convict, often including sexual ones, in exchange for protection, contraband, prison currency, or commissary items.

46. Ride Leg: To be friendly with or suck up to staff in order to get favors.

47. Road Kill: Cigarette butts picked up from roadsides by prison work crew. They’re brought back to the facility and the collected tobacco is rerolled with toilet paper to smoke.

48. Stainless Steel Ride: Death by lethal injection.

49. Three Knee Deep: To stab someone so that they’re injured, but not killed, usually as a warning.

50. Wolf Tickets: To talk tough or challenge others, without any intent to back it up with action or violence, as in “He’s just selling wolf tickets.”

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Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce 'Pulitzer'
Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pulitzer Prize has been awarded to top creative and scientific minds for over 100 years. Named after late 19th-century newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, the prize is a household name, yet its pronunciation still tends to trip people up. Is it “pull-itzer” or “pew-litzer”?

Poynter set the record straight just in time for today’s announcement of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners. Emily Rauh Pulitzer, wife of the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr., told Poynter, “My husband said that his father told people to say ‘Pull it sir.’”

If you’ve been saying it wrong, don’t feel too bad. Edwin Battistella, a linguist and professor at Southern Oregon University, said he pronounced it “pew-lit-zer” until a friend corrected him. Battistella looked to Joseph Pulitzer’s family history to explain why so many people pronounce it incorrectly. He writes on the Oxford University Press's OUPBlog:

“[Joseph Pulitzer] was born in Hungary, where Pulitzer, or Politzer as it is sometimes spelled, was a common family name derived from a place name in southern Moravia, the village of Pullitz. In the United States, the spelling Pulitzer would have quite naturally been Anglicized as PEW-lit-zer by analogy to the other pu spellings like pure, puritanical, pubic, puce, and so on.”

Ultimately, though, it’s up to the family to decide how they’d like their surname to be pronounced. Here it is, pronounced just how the Pulitzers like it, in a YouTube video:

[h/t Poynter]

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Researchers Claim to Crack the Voynich Manuscript Using AI, But Experts Are Skeptical

Computing scientists at the University of Alberta recently made a bold claim: They say they’ve identified the source language of the baffling Voynich Manuscript, and they did so using artificial intelligence.

Their study, published in Transactions of the Association of Computational Linguistics [PDF], basically states that an AI algorithm trained to recognize hundreds of languages determined the Voynich Manuscript to be encoded Hebrew. On the surface, this looks like a huge breakthrough: Since it was rediscovered a century ago, the Voynich Manuscript’s indecipherable text has stumped everyone from World War II codebreakers to computer programmers. But experts are hesitant to give credence to the news. “I have very little faith in it,” cryptographer Elonka Dunin tells Mental Floss. “Hebrew, and dozens of other languages have been identified before. Everyone sees what they want to see.”

Anyone who’s familiar with the Voynich Manuscript should understand the skepticism. The book, which contains 246 pages of illustrations and apparent words written in an unknown script, is obscured by mystery. It’s named for Wilfrid Voynich, the Polish book dealer who purchased it in 1912, but experts believe it was written 600 years ago. Nothing is known about the person who authored it or the book’s purpose.

Many cryptologists suspect the text is a cipher, or a coded pattern of letters that must be unscrambled to make sense. But no code has been identified even after decades of the world’s best cryptographers testing countless combinations. With their study, the researchers at the University of Alberta claim to have done something different. Instead of relying on human linguists and codebreakers, they developed an AI program capable of identifying the source languages of text. They fed the technology 380 versions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, each one translated into a different language and enciphered. After learning to recognize codes in various languages, the AI was given some pages of the Voynich Manuscript. Based on what it had seen already, it named Hebrew as the book’s original language—a surprise to the researchers, who were expecting Arabic.

The researchers then devised an algorithm that rearranged the letters into real words. They were able to make actual Hebrew out of 80 percent of the encoded words in the manuscript. Next, they needed to find an ancient Hebrew scholar to look at the words and determine if they fit together coherently.

But the researchers claim they were unable to get in touch with any scholars, and instead used Google Translate to make sense of the first sentence of the manuscript. In English, the decoded words they came up with read, “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people." Study co-author Greg Kondrak said in a release, “It’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense.”

Dunin is less optimistic. According to her, naming a possible cipher and source language without actually translating more of the text is no cause for celebration. “They identify a method without decrypting a paragraph,” she says. Even their method is questionable. Dunin points out the AI program was trained using ciphers that the researchers themselves wrote, not ciphers from real life. “They scrambled the texts using their own system, then they used their own software to de-scramble those. Then they used it on the manuscript and said, ‘Oh look, it’s Hebrew!’ So it’s a big, big leap.”

The University of Alberta researchers aren’t the first to claim they’ve identified the language of the Voynich Manuscript, and they won’t be the last. But unless they’re able the decode the full text into a meaningful language, the manuscript remains as mysterious today as it did 100 years ago. And if you agree with cryptographers like Dunin who think the book might be a constructed language, a detailed hoax, or even a product of mental illness, it’s a mystery without a satisfying explanation.

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