Bitches, Fishes, and Monsters: Prison Slang and Nonhuman Animal Terminology

In: Society & Animals
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  • 1 The University of Southern Mississippi
  • 2 Tiffin University, Ohio

Abstract

The adult prison population in the U.S. is one of the most important, marginalized, yet misunderstood groups within the country. Not only is the population larger than those of other industrialized nations, but the prisons themselves also tend to be more punitive in nature. While there have been many proposed reasons for this, ranging from differences in the “American Character” to the increasing severity of mandatory sentencing guidelines, explanations of the American prisoner setting remain thin. One area that has relevance to this topic but in which there has been little research is the language used to describe prisoners. This language is replete with images of nonhuman animals. Examples and explanations of this phenomenon are provided through the inspection of the lexicons and argots (“prison slang”) for animal themes, and implications regarding implicit power relationships and the effects on both prisoners and nonhuman animals stemming from this language are explored.

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