[ poh-kee ]
/ ˈpoʊ ki /
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noun, plural pok·eys.Slang.
Usually the pokey . a jail: They put him in the pokey for carrying a concealed weapon.
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Origin of pokey

First recorded in 1915–20; origin uncertain; possibly a variant of pogey
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does pokey mean?

Pokey is a slang term for jail. It’s typically used with the article the, as in Sal got arrested and spent a night in the pokey. 

Pokey can also be used to describe someone or something that moves slowly. This sense of word is intended to be negative or insulting.

Less commonly, it can be used as an adjective meaning small and cramped, as in There’s no way we can have a party in this pokey little apartment. 

Pokey can also be spelled poky.

Example: If it were up to me, all these pokey drivers would spend a night in the pokey—the pokier the cell the better.

Where does pokey come from?

The first records of the word pokey as an adjective come from the 1800s. It uses the same sense of the word poke that’s seen in the noun slowpoke, referring to a person who moves slowly, as well as the verb phrase poke along, as in If we keep poking along on this project, we’re never going to make any progress. 

The origin of the word pokey as a slang term for jail isn’t certain, but it might be based on the word pogey, referring to a type of institution for housing poor people. In this sense, pokey can refer to a jail or a prison: the coppers can send you to the pokey for the night or the judge can lock you up in the pokey for life. Either way, the word sounds a bit old-timey and is typically used to be funny. It’s never used in a serious context. Similar synonyms are slammer, clink, can, joint—all of which are also usually used with the.

When we describe someone as pokey to mean they’re moving slowly, it’s not a nice thing to say. It’s most often applied to drivers who we think are driving too slow.

Unrelatedly, pokey shows up in the term hokey-pokey. This most commonly refers to a type of dance, but it can also mean “trickery,” and in fact it is a variation of the term hocus-pocus.

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What are some other forms related to pokey?

  • poky (alternate spelling)
  • pokeys (plural)
  • pokies (alternate plural)
  • pokily (adverb)
  • pokiness (noun)
  • pokier (comparative adjective)
  • pokiest (superlative adjective)

What are some synonyms for pokey?

What are some words that share a root or word element with pokey

What are some words that often get used in discussing pokey?

How is pokey used in real life?

In all of its senses, pokey is used informally, often to be humorous.



Try using pokey!

Does the following sentence contain an appropriate use of the word pokey

The judge is expected to announce a verdict today in the triple homicide trial, and the defendant faces life in the pokey.

How to use pokey in a sentence