|Slang City Mail|
|August 5, 2004|
Slang of the
Week: the bing (noun)
The first time I went to Filene’s Basement, Boston’s famed discount department store, I was confused by a strange announcement over the loudspeaker. “Mr. Smith, please report to the big house,” said a pleasant voice. I later learned that this gangster slang for prison is Filene’s Basement slang for the main office.
There is a lot of slang about being locked up, but one of my favorites appears in an Aretha Franklin song from the 1960s. “Niki, Niki, Niki Hoeky, your pappy's doing time in the pokey.” Since pokey can also mean small, this word for prison probably comes from the small size of the cells.
Another classic prison term, up the river, has an interesting history. The town of Sing Sing, New York, was named for the Sin Sinck Indians who lived in that area before the European settlers. The Sing Sing prison used to be located in that town, but is now in Ossining. It didn’t move – the town changed its name to in 1901 to distance itself from the prison’s notorious image. But both the town and the prison are up the Hudson River from New York City (the source of many of its inmates). Now the phrase can be used about serving time in any prison. Sing Sing is also north of New York, but whether the synonym up north is also related to Sing Sing is a matter of conjecture.
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