Green’s Dictionary of Slang

lag n.2

[lag v.2 (1); note Aus. (Victoria) police jargon lag, ‘one who informs especially, though not exclusively, against his or her fellow-officers’ (Seal, The Lingo, 1999)]

1. (UK Und.) a term of transportation or penal servitude.

[UK] ‘Come All You Buffers Gay’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 53: For if the cull should be down / And catch you a fileing his bag / Then at the Old Bailey you’re found, / And d—n you, he’ll tip you the lag.
[UK]W. Perry London Guide 157: Jack Pettit, whose girl and two companions had the lag for fourteen.
[UK]D. Haggart Autobiog. 60: The other two were [...] under sentence of lag for spunk.
[UK]Worcester Herald 26 Dec. 4/3: A tag [sic] transportation.
[UK]Egan ‘The Bridle Cull’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 140: Then, my blades, when you’re bush’d, and must have the swag, / Walk into tattlers, shiners, and never fear the lag.
[UK]Wild Boys of London I 331/1: I’m in for a lag.
[UK]R. Barnett Police Sergeant C 21 235: When he has worked out his ‘lag,’ he will go out and put into execution the schemes which he has formed in his mind.
[Aus]Truth (Brisbane) 10 Apr. 5/1: [H]e proffered the information that he was born in Tasmania [and] arrived [...] in the ancient land of lag, with ham and eggs for breakfast.

2. a convict who has been transported or sentenced to penal servitude.

[UK]Lex. Balatronicum n.p.: Lag. A man transported.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[Aus] F. MacNamara in Seal (1999) 34: Land of lags and kangaroo / Of ’possum and the scarce emu.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 28 Mar. 3/4: The prisoner had been made a cat's paw of, by a designing old female ‘lag’.
[Aus]‘A. Pendragon’ Queen of the South 76: What right have you, puppified, sneaking crawlers, to come to this island – to our new country – to the lags’-land?
[UK]Daily Tel. 19 Oct. n.p.: The country is so wild and unexplored, that the lag who has traversed it, or could traverse it, might re-enter society as a hero if he would impart his adventures [F&H].
[UK]Sheffield Indep. 23 Dec. 15/2: I’m surly Dick I am [...] an old hand and a lag.
[UK]Dundee Courier (Scot.) 7 June 7/7: That chap’s a lag, just come home.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Eureka’ in Roderick (1967–9) I 25: Shall we stand by while mates are seized and dragged like ‘lags’ away?
[NZ]Ohinemuri Gaz. (Waikato) 27 Aug. 2/2: You blanky infernal Hobart Town lag!
[Aus]‘Price Warung’ Tales of the Early Days 10: Give us my five hunderd quick an’ a’ done wi’ it. Look slippy now, Ol’ King-o’-th’-Lags!
[Aus]Truth (Perth) 24 Dec. 8/8: ‘Sweatin’ ain’t the name to call it; / Convict labor are the word. / Them as thinks lag-days is finished / Do think on a thing absurd’.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Gentlemen All’ in Roderick (1972) 921: Why! they’ll think we’re only a lot of [bloody] lags after all, like they sent out from England!
[Aus]G.A. Wilkes Exploring Aus. Eng. 13: One enterprising convict, James Hardy Vaux, put together a vocabulary of the criminal slang of the colony – the ‘flash’ language – in 1812. His list includes [...] shake in the sense of ‘steal’, lag for a convict and trap for policeman.
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 32: One of the most interesting of our many little lingoes was that spoken by the convicts transported to Australia — lags as they called themselves.

3. a convict who has finished his sentence or has been released on parole.

[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 57: LAG, a returned convict, or ticket-of-leave convict.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Sl. Dict.

4. any convict; thus Lagland, the underworld.

[UK](con. 1737–9) W.H. Ainsworth Rookwood (1857) 179: And thus was I bowled out at last, / And into the jug for a lag was cast.
[UK]H. Kingsley Recollections of G. Hamlyn (1891) 297: In comes an old chap as I knew for a lag in a minute.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 25: He [...] had a good report against what he would call a ‘gentleman lag’.
[UK]Dundee Courier (Scot.) 14 July 7/3: It’s his father, ‘Jack the Lag,’ what keeps the house.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Aug. 25/1: And picture the day to the station we tramped / With our ‘characters’ safe in the swag – / A long, weary walk, and, by George, you were ‘camped’; / And, don’t you remember, the hands had me stamped, / As one of Ghirt’s runaway ‘lags’?
[UK]H. Nisbet ‘Bail Up!’ 248: ‘Are the police coming?’ [...] ‘I tinky not. Only that sundowny lun away like ol’ lag.’.
[Aus] ‘A few notes on N.S.W. professional criminals, by one who knows them’ in Bulletin (Sydney) 4 Oct. 12/4: His speciality when a tottering old grey-beard was ‘pinching’ carpenters’ tools and ‘fencing’ them in the suburbs. He has had many a pound from Guy Boothby for Lagland reminiscences.
[UK]Sporting Times 11 Feb. 1/5: Have you heard the story of the penitent lag who essayed to turn over a new leaf at the Salvation Army farm settlement?
[UK]T.W.H. Crosland The First Stone 20: A common convict, a ‘lag’ / Doing his bitter ‘stretch’.
[US]D. Runyon ‘The Bloodhounds of Broadway’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 93: They are trained [...] to track down guys such as lags who escape from the county pokey.
[UK]V. Davis Phenomena in Crime 122: Another lag took up the cudgels on Willie’s behalf.
[Aus]Truth (Brisbane) 26 Dec. 20/3: In Brisbane Police Court last week [...] a pair of the city’s hardened lags went down the chute for a ‘sixer,’ for stealing.
Dly Herald (London) 11 Feb. 5/4: The first ‘lag’ to have his throat cut, lies in a hospital bed.
[UK]F. Norman Bang To Rights 83: A cluster of misserable little houses, which were bilt by some laggs of another age.
[Ire](con. 1940s) B. Behan Confessions 114: A bomb landed on the Assize Court next door and the blast killed twenty of the lags.
[UK]Wodehouse Much Obliged, Jeeves 179: ‘Runkle?’ they’ll say. ‘That old lag?’.
[UK](con. 1950s–60s) in G. Tremlett Little Legs 195: lag convict.
[UK]I. Welsh Trainspotting 148: He could hear the psycho lags now, cunts, he reflected, like Begbie.
[UK]T. Blacker Kill Your Darlings 291: They say he’s in Rio with all the other old lags.
[UK] (ref. to 1971) F. Dennis ‘Old Bailey’ Homeless in my Heart 179: Where the lags and toe-rags know / What others have only begun.

5. (prison) any length of sentence.

[UK]D. Stewart Wild Tribes of London in Illus. Police News 11 Jan. 12/4: ‘I know as the gal ’elped you to that larst lag’.
[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 53: lag [...] an indefinite term of years in prison.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 118: Lag. – A prison sentence, usually of a year or more. Seldom if ever used in America to indicate a criminal.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 141: lag [...] a penitentiary sentence.
[NZ]G. Newbold Big Huey 65: When she finally went away on a trip to England I found my lag a lot easier to do.

6. (Aus. prison) a three-month sentence [? link to tramp’s lagging under tramp n.].

[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 141: Here is a brief glossary of jail sentences: lag, three months. snooze. three months [...] rest, twelve months. all the year round. twelve months.
[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 235/1: lag – a jail sentence of three months.

In derivatives

lagdom (n.)

(Aus.) the pentitentiary world.

[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 22 July 5/5: The Inborn Brutality which generations of lagdom has naturalised in our system.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 5 May 5/3: The most infamous of all its Courts, even in the medlar days of Lagdom, has never sunk so low.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 25 Sept. 1/3: This is tritely typical of our lovely laws, our heritage of lagdom.

In compounds

lag ship (n.)

a ship used for the transportation of convicts to Australia; a prison hulk.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 249: lag ship a transport chartered by Government for the conveyance of convicts to New South Wales; also, a hulk, or floating prison, in which, to the disgrace of humanity, many hundreds of these unhappy persons are confined, and suffer every complication of human misery.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.

In phrases