Jail and gaol
Thread poster: Mats Wiman

Mats Wiman  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 07:01
Member (2000)
German to Swedish
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Moderator of this forum
Oct 1, 2010

Thanks Heinrich for 'igniting' this question.

Jail is the most used word for prison

Gaol is rarer

Does anybody know the origin of the two,
the distinction between them
AND
their respective pronunciation?

Mats

[Edited at 2010-10-01 12:55 GMT]


 

Gilla Evans  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:01
Spanish to English
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origins Oct 1, 2010

Based on Latin cavea, this word came into English in two forms, jaiole (from Old French) and gayole (from Anglo-Norman French gaole) surviving in the spelling gaol. The latter was originally pronounced with a hard g, as in goat. Jail is the official spelling in the US.

From The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories


 

Alison Sabedoria  Identity Verified
France
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
I can only add... Oct 1, 2010

... that "gaol" remains the official term in the UK, though "jail" is common in less formal use.

These days both spellings are pronounced the same.

[Edited at 2010-10-01 13:52 GMT]


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 07:01
Italian to English
The Oxford Style Manual's take Oct 1, 2010

The Oxford Style Manual recommends "jail", except in historical contexts.

G.


 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:01
French to English
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Official? Oct 1, 2010

Wordeffect wrote:

... that "gaol" remains the official term in the UK, though "jail" is common in less formal use.

These days both spellings are pronounced the same.


What exactly do you mean by "official"?

I don't personally see what's so informal about the spelling "jail"-- I think it's just the normal one that practically all people would use practically all of the time...


 

Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:01
English to Spanish
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Jail and Prison Oct 1, 2010

Jail ( the spelling used in USA) and prison are not the same. Jails tend to be short-term confinement facilities for persons awaiting trial or serving short sentences (days, weeks or months). Usually they belong to a local government (city or county). On the other hand, prisons tend to be long-term confinement facilities for persons serving long sentences (years) and are usually administered by the states or the federal government.

 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:01
Member (2007)
English
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Question about Am usage Oct 1, 2010

Henry Hinds wrote:

Jail ( the spelling used in USA) and prison are not the same.


Thanks for your definition of these terms as used in America, Henry.

What about penitentiary? Where does that fit in? It's a word we hear occasionally in the UK but it definitely isn't "one of ours". It seems to me that I've heard "state penitentiary" - does that mean they are for serious offenders only?


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:01
Member (2007)
English
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What exactly does "official" mean? Oct 1, 2010

Neil Coffey wrote:
I don't personally see what's so informal about the spelling "jail"-- I think it's just the normal one that practically all people would use practically all of the time...


I agree and I would have thought the Oxford Style Guide was pretty official, at least for contemporary writing.


 

Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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Member (2005)
German to English
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I don't think it's "official" Oct 1, 2010

Wordeffect wrote:
... that "gaol" remains the official term in the UK, though "jail" is common in less formal use.
These days both spellings are pronounced the same.

My "Times English Dictionary" has a v. short definition of 'gaol': "a variant spelling of jail", and a much longer definition of 'jail' including its French history.
I sometimes wish there were, but there is no "official" spelling in the UK. There are spellings that are "generally accepted" or considered to be correct (and recorded in dictionaries, like my TED and the better known OED) - that's the nearest we get to "official" - not like the Académie française.

Oliver


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
. Oct 1, 2010

Gaol gets about 4 million Google hits, jail gets 83 million. I think that says it all.

 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:01
Member (2008)
French to English
Terms for lockups Oct 2, 2010

These terms definitely have different uses depending on the locale.

At least in Canada, I have only heard the word gaol in a historical sense.

Jail is short term, such as a police station, municipal or county jail, where sentences are less than 30 days.

Penitentiaries and prisons are for longer term sentences, and have a much larger infrastructure than jails.

In Canada, Federal penitentiaries tend to be called correctional centres and the staff are correctional officers. These large instituions often include psychologists, medical personnel and education facilities, sometimes even housing for inmates' families, all within the compound.

A look at the websites of the government in question should clear up the terminology needed.

[Edited at 2010-10-02 01:35 GMT]


 

Lancashireman  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:01
German to English
An amusing story from where I live in the UK Oct 2, 2010

Some streets in the Lace Market [area of Nottingham] are now tourist attractions, such as the Galleries of Justice on Low Pavement. The Galleries are located in the old law courts and County Gaol (jail) - or County Goal as the stonemason accidentally inscribed it, a blunder still visible today above the entrance which ironically probably got the poor stonemason severely punished.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lace_Market

Notts County Football Club (often known as Notts or County or by their nickname The Magpies) are an English professional football club. They are the oldest professional football league club in the world, having been formed in 1862.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notts_County_F.C.


 

Moisés Bittner
Local time: 02:01
English to Spanish
+ ...
GAOL Jan 7, 2014

I prefer to spell it 'gaol'


http://slb-ltsu.hull.ac.uk/awe/index.php?title=Gaol_-_jail


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 14:01
Japanese to English
+ ...
They are the same Jan 7, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Henry Hinds wrote:

Jail ( the spelling used in USA) and prison are not the same.


Thanks for your definition of these terms as used in America, Henry.

What about penitentiary? Where does that fit in? It's a word we hear occasionally in the UK but it definitely isn't "one of ours". It seems to me that I've heard "state penitentiary" - does that mean they are for serious offenders only?


Prison and penitentiary refer to the same thing in America. I never thought there to be a difference; it doesn't seem like a regional thing because both terms have been adopted by various institutions around the country. I did find this interesting tidbit at the Online Etymology Dictionary, though:



 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:01
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Clang Jan 7, 2014

I like "gaol". It has more of a "clang" to it, like a gate being closed and locked. It's more final. "Jail" is OK too. Whether you use one or the other would depend on the context. They're both current, IMHO.

 


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