hoose·​gow ˈhüs-ˌgau̇ How to pronounce hoosegow (audio)
plural hoosegows
US, informal + humorous
: jail
… ended the evening in the local hoosegow.Burton Bernstein
… treat your dogs and cats humanely or you might wind up in the hoosegow.Bill Hendrick

Did you know?

In Spanish, juzgado means "panel of judges, courtroom." The word is based on the Spanish past participle of juzgar, meaning "to judge," which itself was influenced by Latin judicare—a combination of jus, "right, law," and dicere,"to decide, say." When English speakers of the American West borrowed juzgado, they recorded it the way they heard it: hoosegow. They also associated the word specifically with the jail that was usually in the same building as a courthouse. Today, hoosegow has become slang for any place of confinement for lawbreakers.

Examples of hoosegow in a Sentence

they ended up in the hoosegow for disorderly conduct
Recent Examples on the Web In prison, there are Keene’s encounters with a real-life mob boss and a manipulative guard to add tension, and just enough mayhem to remind you that this is no ordinary hoosegow. Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, 7 July 2022 Her ex — still in the hoosegow in Los Angeles — was tried and sentenced to a two-year stretch at San Quentin. Los Angeles Times, 3 May 2022 From 1868 to 1890, legend says Wickenburg scofflaws were chained to a mesquite tree that served as the town hoosegow. Roger Naylor, The Arizona Republic, 28 Nov. 2020 Most famously, in 1968 Johnny Cash serenaded state inmates at the max-security Folsom Prison in California, later turning the hoosegow act into a live album titled At Folsom Prison. Keri Blakinger, Houston Chronicle, 15 Nov. 2019 Carved from a granite cliff overlooking the Colorado River, this was America’s most notorious 19th century hoosegow. Roger Naylor, azcentral, 4 Oct. 2019 And Blankenship has charged that Manchin, who was governor at the time of the mine explosion, conspired with Barack Obama (not a popular figure in West Virginia) to send him to the hoosegow. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, 20 Mar. 2018 And worse yet from the governor’s point of view, the prosecutor with jurisdiction over these matters is the same one trying to send him to the hoosegow for the privacy and blackmail charge, St. Louis circuit attorney Kim Gardner. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, 17 Apr. 2018 The charges if pursued and confirmed would definitely land Netanyahu in the hoosegow. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, 13 Feb. 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'hoosegow.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Spanish juzgado panel of judges, courtroom, from past participle of juzgar to judge, from Latin judicare — more at judge entry 2

First Known Use

1895, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of hoosegow was in 1895


Dictionary Entries Near hoosegow

Cite this Entry

“Hoosegow.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hoosegow. Accessed 22 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


hoose·​gow ˈhüs-ˌgau̇ How to pronounce hoosegow (audio)

from Spanish juzgado "panel of judges, courtroom," derived from juzgar "to judge," from Latin judicare "to judge" — related to judge

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