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Posted by Michael Stueber on June 25, 2001 at 14:44:09:

In Reply to: WORD ORIGINS posted by Mark Lyons on June 25, 2001 at 01:33:15:

:Hi. I would like to know if any of you can give
:me any information about the origin of the word
:"jail". I do know that it was derived from "Gaol"
:but I would like some information such as where
:Gaol is located and if there still a jail there.
:Dates of its opening and closing would be helpful.

Gaol isn't a place, it's just another word. My
dictionary of word origins traces its derivation
like this: The Latin word "cavus" (kah-wuss)
meaning "hollow", evolved into the archaic Italian
"cavia", meaning "a cage", which gradually developed
into "gabbia". "Gabbia" eventually entered English
as "gaiola" (gah-yo-lah) in the thirteenth century.
From there to "gaol" is easy. :)
(Incidentally, that may sound like a bit of a
stretch, but it turns out that "cavus" is responsible
for all kinds of English words, including "cave",
"cabinet", "excavate", and "cajole".)

:Why is a jail also called "the clink"? Is it
:named after the prison in London or is it because
:of the door lock sound when locked?

Three possibilities here. First of all, the Clink
was, as you said, an English prison (this book
says it was in Southwark, but I have no idea where
that is). You're also right about the sound of the
door closing (the word "clink" is onamotopoeic; it
sounds like the thing it describes). _Finally_,
"clink" in Old English could mean "to fasten"
(which is where we get the modern "cling"), so
"the clink" could also refer to being chained.
The modern use is possibly a combination of the
three. Take your pick.

: Does anyone know why "Darby's" are called that?

Weeeelllll... I've read on the internet (it may
have been one of Orchid's pages, but I'm not sure)
that "darby" used to be slang for the letter D.
Since darbies look a little bit D-ish, that'd make
sense. Unfortunately, the OED (more on that later)
lists no such meaning for the word "darby". It
does, however, say that "darby" means fetters or
irons in general.
So the way I see it, there are two possibilities:
first, that "darby originally meant any kind of
handcuffs or irons, and through repetition came to
be applied to Hiatt's irons in particular, or
second, that the OED didn't figure on the average
dictionary reader recognizing the Hiatt name and
went with a general description. I'd bet on the
first explanation, but I sure can't prove it
(though, if you see the Mirror article on Houdini
elsewhere on this site, one of the captions calls
the Mirror cuffs "darbies")

:Any information that can be given on these
:questions will be greatly appreciated. Word origins
:on any other restraints or jail terminology shall
:also be a benefit.

I strongly recommend that you check out the Oxford
English Dictionary for any prison words you can
think of. It's an industrial strength unabridged
dictionary that'll give you half a dozen
definitions, the word origin (sometimes), and, best
of all, citations from period documents that used
the word (for example, I think they quote from a
nineteenth century crime novel in the "darby"
entry). Any good-sized county library should have
a copy. Just ask the reference librarian where it

:I am preparing a nice display
:of cuffs and jail items for the San Diego Sheriff
:Museum and Educational Center. We hope to open in

Sounds great! Any hope of some photos for those of us who can't
make it out to CA?

Something else I found that might interest you:
the word "slang" comes from the Dutch word "slang",
meaning "snake". It was used in English in the
early nineteenth century to mean "chain", and by
extension fetters. So "slang" means "language of
criminals". :)


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