[Spanish juzgado, tribunal, courtroom, from past participle of juzgar, to judge, from Latin iūdicāre, from iūdex, iūdic-, judge; see JUDGE.]
Our Living Language Hoosegow is an old slang synonym for jail with a flavor of the American West: They threw him in the hoosegow for being drunk and disorderly. The term was born in the lively mixture of Spanish and English spoken in the western part of the United States—it comes from the Spanish juzgado, "court of justice, tribunal." In many varieties of Spanish, the ending -ado is usually pronounced as -ao in everyday speech, with no d at all or only a very lightly articulated one. The spelling hoosegow thus is a pretty good representation of the American Spanish pronunciation of the word juzgado as it might sound to the ears of an English-speaking American, even though hoosegow looks nothing like the actual written form juzgado. The first known occurrence of the word hoosegow dates from 1909, and the word was especially associated with army slang in its early history. Spanish juzgado, "court of justice," comes from the verb juzgar, "to judge," and juzgar itself comes from the Latin verb iūdicāre. On the way from Latin to Old French, iūdicāre became the Old French verb juger, "to judge," which was borrowed into Middle English as jugen. Jugen eventually developed into the Modern English verb judge. Hoosegow and judge are thus distant linguistic cousins.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
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