gaol

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gvergara

Senior Member
Español
Hi:

I've already read a thread there is concerning the word gaol. However, there's still something I don't quite understand. Is it an old-fashioned variant of jail, or is it still currently used?
 
  • Pie Crust

    Banned
    England English
    Hi:

    I've already read a thread there is concerning the word gaol. However, there's still something I don't quite understand. Is it an old-fashioned variant of jail, or is it still currently used?
    Hi there,

    It is an alternative spelling of the word 'jail'. It is used far less frequently than it once was.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    In the USA, it is not just old-fashioned: It is a word that should be reserved for historical novels. In BE, as Pie Crust mentioned, it can be considered a variant, though one whose use is waning.
     

    jamesjiao

    Senior Member
    New Zealand English and Mandarin Chinese
    Hi:

    I've already read a thread there is concerning the word gaol. However, there's still something I don't quite understand. Is it an old-fashioned variant of jail, or is it still currently used?
    Both words are in use in New Zealand, although 'jail' seems to be slightly more common.
     

    GamblingCamel

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I agree with Biblio (as I often do).
    I'd add that 80% of the AE population, if they were to see the word out of context, would think it is from a foreign language.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I agree with Biblio (as I often do).
    I'd add that 80% of the AE population, if they were to see the word out of context, would think it is from a foreign language.
    Is that derived from a scientific survey, GC?

    Loob
     

    GamblingCamel

    Senior Member
    USA English
    No ... I just chose a big number. I didn't have the U.S. government add it as the last question on the 2000 U.S. Census.
     

    Lexiphile

    Senior Member
    England English
    Waning?? I haven't seen gaol in an English newspaper for donkey's years. It disappeared about the same time as "Tickets must be shewn at the barrier."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    The British National Corpus shows only 258 entries with "gaol" and 1,241 entries with "jail."
    You don't surprise me, JamesM. I would certainly write "jail"; though I would recognise "gaol" as an older spelling.

    Loob
     

    hotpocket

    Senior Member
    American English / Boston
    I agree with Biblio (as I often do).
    I'd add that 80% of the AE population, if they were to see the word out of context, would think it is from a foreign language.
    I'm 38, born and bred in the US of A, and though I pride myself in having an extensive vocabulary (much broader than MOST educated Americans), I have never seen gaol before. I originally assumed someone had misspelled GOAL.
     

    Teafrog

    Senior Member
    UK English (& rusty French…)
    I'm 38, born and bred in the US of A, and though I pride myself in having an extensive vocabulary (much broader than MOST educated Americans), I have never seen gaol before. I originally assumed someone had misspelled GOAL.
    Wow :eek:
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I've read both gaol and gaoler, but I'm sure I encountered them in some period or historical novel. I've also read it in UK blogs.
    I'm in the same situation. I believe the minister ("padre", as they called him) in the Mapp & Lucia series used the word. It's not a word in use in the U.S. that I'm aware of, other than in an historical setting.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I'm 43 and born and bred in the UK of GB & NI, and I always write gaol. Except for when I forget and write the much less aesthetically interesting jail. Yes, sheer cussedness.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I'm 43 and born and bred in the UK of GB & NI, and I always write gaol. Except for when I forget and write the much less aesthetically interesting jail. Yes, sheer cussedness.

    Out of curiousity, is "gaol" pronounced the same as "jail"? Since I've only read it, I've always assumed it was pronounced like "gay ole".
     

    Suehil

    Medemod
    British English
    They are pronounced exactly the same - as I said, they are the same word, just spelt differently.
    Until I read this thread it had never occurred to me that any BE literate would ever spell it 'jail' - I thought that was exclusively American.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    Perhaps it's a regional BE question, then. (I'm not going to fling any wild accusations as to older generations vs. younger generations... though I suppose U.S. influence is a significant reason for any reduced usage of "gaol.")
     

    Teafrog

    Senior Member
    UK English (& rusty French…)
    They are both pronounced exactly the same. The first use gaol comes from an old 1275 French word. Jail saw life in 1604; for the gory details, see here.

    It doesn't surprise me at all that gaol is not used in AE, as, to be fair, the term is somewhat archaic; but what does raise by eyebrows is that some people are not aware of it in the USA (being interested in languages, it is not useful to turn one's back on the past).

    The interesting thing from this is that, whereas the Brits (+ Australians, etc…?) see jail and prison as virtually identical, the Americans appear to see them as different.
    Have a nice day y'all :)


    PS: the French use the term "geôlier" nowadays (francophones, see here), meaning "a prison guard" (a "jailer") ;)
     

    GamblingCamel

    Senior Member
    USA English
    In AE we also use "penitentiary."
    It is a state or federal prison -- and thus different from a county or city jail.
    It's what you see in "Prison Break."
    In slang, it is "the pen."

    "Penitentiary" is far less common than "prison", but AE speakers definitely
    know the word. Ice Cube, the rapper, titled a 1998 track, "Penitentiary."
    It's the last track on an album which also includes "Three Strikes You're In"
    [a reference to California's Proposition 184 where three felony convictions result in mandatory life imprisonment].

    Thank you AE speakers for lending credence to my "80%" guess about
    "gaol".
     
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