Boobslang: A lexicographical study of the argot of New Zealand prison inmates in the period 1996-2000

Type of content
Theses / Dissertations
Publisher's DOI/URI
Thesis discipline
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
University of Canterbury. English
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Looser, Diana M. F.

Boobslang, or the argot of New Zealand prison inmates, is a form of language unique to prisons and criminal subcultures. Although prison argot is a linguistic feature of most prison communities worldwide, boobslang is a specific New Zealand variety. With its origins in sixteenth century British cant, boobslang is an extension of the underworld varieties that developed in Britain, America and Australia. Individual tenns were first recorded in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century and the argot started to develop an indigenous flavour during the first half of the twentieth century. Brief glossaries have been published occasionally since the 1940s. The thesis is divided into two parts. The first part provides a sociological and lexicological context for boobslang, discussing the nature of the prison community in New Zealand; the prison as both a total institution and an antisociety: that is, a separate, resistant world requiring resocialisation of the inmate; and boobslang as an anti language generated by that antisociety, and the vehicle of the inmate's resocialisation in the prison environment. The specific functions of boobslang within the prison environment are also considered, as are the characteristics of the New Zealand variety of boobslang; the differences between boobslang use in men's and women's prisons; and the historical development of underworld varieties of language that have given rise to the boobslang used by contemporary inmates. The second and larger part of the thesis presents data gathered by interview with inmates in all of New Zealand's prisons. This takes the form of a full-length lexicon of boobslang, containing approximately 3,000 entries. The lexicon provides information about headword, definition, etymology and origins, together with citations from New Zealand literature, and extensive cultural notes covering such subjects as the drug culture, gangs, and prison policy and procedure. This thesis contains the first comprehensive lexicographical study of New Zealand prison argot. It makes a contribution to historical lexicography by recording the speech habits of New Zealand prison inmates at the end of the twentieth century.

Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
ANZSRC fields of research
Copyright Diana M. F. Looser