Socio-lingual Phenomenon of the Anti-language of Polish and American Prison Inmates


The aim of this paper is to compare Polish and American prison slang terms as well as their inmate codes. This paper is devoted to the phenomenon of prison subculture from the perspective of the Polish prison slang so called the secret grypserka language (from gryps – a slang word meaning a letter smuggled into or out of a jail). Grypserka is the anti-language of Polish prison inmates. Prisoners are people, too, like doctors, policemen and undertakers but when being in prison they lose their friends or often family and then there is nothing left for them but to learn words (grypserka slang) in order to communicate secretly with one another. Perhaps, nobody wants to be sentenced to prison apart from those who are broken-down. A lot of people regard imprisonment as the end of the world. In spite of their dislike or even fear of prisons, they do not close the way to experience power, wealth, sex and addiction. In order to gain so many conveniences, prisoners have to develop their language skills and learn grypserka which allow many desires to be met in their “second world” relieving the pains and inconveniences of incarceration. All in all, it was agreed that “the distinctive argot of inmates gives an insight into the institutions, preoccupations, and style of prison life” (Michaels and Ricks, 1980: 525). Unfortunately, the prison slang has a negative effect on the rehabilitation process because it carries subculture “essence” – rules and norms. It is due to unique expressions, words and phrases that the way of thinking and outlooks of the group members are shaped. When penetrating such a composite phenomenon as the prison slang one should take into consideration its specific attribute – secrecy – and, moreover, the fact that its chief goal is to fight against law.


Prison slang; grypserka; Polish prison subculture; anti-language; American and Polish prison terminology

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Published : 2015-06-30

Zarzycki, Łukasz (2015) “Socio-lingual Phenomenon of the Anti-language of Polish and American Prison Inmates”, Crossroads. A Journal of English Studies, (8), pp. 11-23. doi: 10.15290/cr.2015.08.1.02.

Łukasz Zarzycki 
University of Nizwa  Oman