hoose·​gow | \ ˈhüs-ˌgau̇ How to pronounce hoosegow (audio) \
plural hoosegows

Definition of hoosegow

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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for hoosegow


Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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 in the early 1900s, 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

she ended up in the hoosegow for disorderly conduct
Recent Examples on the Web 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, "Kanye West plays secret concert for Harris County jail inmates," 15 Nov. 2019 Carved from a granite cliff overlooking the Colorado River, this was America’s most notorious 19th century hoosegow. Roger Naylor, azcentral, "Western Arizona road trip: Lake Havasu and loads of hidden gems," 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, "Ex-Con Blankenship Screwing Up GOP Plans for Taking Down West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin," 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, "Missouri’s AG Throws Another Log on the Fire Consuming Governor Greitens," 17 Apr. 2018 The charges if pursued and confirmed would definitely land Netanyahu in the hoosegow. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "Bibi’s a Step Closer to the Slammer," 13 Feb. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hoosegow.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of hoosegow

1895, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for hoosegow

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about hoosegow

Time Traveler for hoosegow

Time Traveler

The first known use of hoosegow was in 1895

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about hoosegow

Statistics for hoosegow

Last Updated

27 Apr 2020

Cite this Entry

“Hoosegow.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hoosegow. Accessed 4 Jun. 2020.

More from Merriam-Webster on hoosegow

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for hoosegow

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with hoosegow

Comments on hoosegow

What made you want to look up hoosegow? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

May 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a blooming wisteria tree
  • Which is a synonym of exiguous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!