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[jeyl] /dʒeɪl/
a prison, especially one for the detention of persons awaiting trial or convicted of minor offenses.
verb (used with object)
to take into or hold in lawful custody; imprison.
Also, British, gaol.
Origin of jail
1225-75; Middle English gaiole, jaiole, jaile < Old North French gaiole, Old French jaiole cage < Vulgar Latin *gaviola, variant of *caveola, diminutive of Latin cavea cage; see -ole1
Related forms
jailable, adjective
jailless, adjective
jaillike, adjective
nonjailable, adjective
rejail, verb (used with object)
unjailed, adjective
Can be confused
jail, prison. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for jail
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • After laying in the jail at Holly Springs about three weeks Wilson came for me.

    Biography of a Slave Charles Thompson
  • "The jail of the county is at Welland, the county town," replied the constable.

  • I came here for rest and quiet, and I am going to have them, if I have to go to jail for them.

  • Another had a brother in jail, who could not be got out without me.

  • A writ by which a man may be taken out of jail when confined for the wrong crime.

    The Devil's Dictionary Ambrose Bierce
British Dictionary definitions for jail


a place for the confinement of persons convicted and sentenced to imprisonment or of persons awaiting trial to whom bail is not granted
(informal) get out of jail, get out of jail free, to get out of a difficult situation
(transitive) to confine in prison
Derived Forms
jailless, gaolless, adjective
jail-like, gaol-like, adjective
Word Origin
C13: from Old French jaiole cage, from Vulgar Latin caveola (unattested), from Latin cavea enclosure; see cage: the two spellings derive from the forms of the word that developed in two different areas of France, and the spelling gaol represents a pronunciation in use until the 17th century
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for jail

late 13c., gayhol, from Old North French gaiole and Old French jaole, both meaning "a cage, prison," from Medieval Latin gabiola, from Late Latin caveola, diminutive of Latin cavea "cage, enclosure, stall, coop" (see cave (n.)). Both forms carried into Middle English; now pronounced "jail" however it is spelled. Persistence of Norman-derived gaol (preferred in Britain) is "chiefly due to statutory and official tradition" [OED].


"to put in jail," c.1600, from jail (n.). Related: Jailed; jailing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for jail



To live tolerably in jail; survive imprisonment: Roy taught me how to jail (1980s+)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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