Green’s Dictionary of Slang

stir n.1

also sterr, stur
[abbr. Rom. sturiben, a prison, staripen, to imprison; ult. štar, to imprison]

1. prison.

[UK]Worcester Herald 26 Dec. 4/3: Sturabin a goal.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 52: IN STIR, to be in prison.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 219/1: Just out of ‘stir’ (jail) for ‘muzzling a peeler’.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 79/2: The ‘molls’ had brought our bags [...] and placed them in charge of the old woman, with whom they lived while we were ‘doing’ our porritch and kail business in ‘stur’.
[UK] ‘Autobiog. of a Thief’ Macmillan’s Mag. (London) XL 502: I was sent to Maidstone Stir (prison) for two moon.
Ledger (Noblesville, IN) 14 Aug. 6/2: A fresh fish came in. He recognized an old friend [...] "Hello! when did you get out of the grand sterr?’.
[UK]J.W. Horsley Jottings from Jail 26: ‘Beef to-day, Soup to-moorrow,’ which again does not sound as if ‘stir’ [...] means starvation.
[UK]Birmingham Dly Post 31 Mar. 3/4: [W]hen a vagabond elects to get a few days in ‘stur’ he does so only in those localities where the prison is known [...] to be a good one.
[UK]C. Rook Hooligan Nights 70: The brass was made up by the uvver boys before Dick got took to the stir.
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 41: If you shouldn’t happen to discover a way of helpin’ me, that telegram reads cuffs in Clinton Place, jail in Akron, Stir in Columbus.
[UK]A. Binstead Mop Fair 198: Féo could not possibly order the carriage for such an odious destination as Brixton Stir.
[UK]Leamington Spa Courier 20 Sept. 7/1: He had just come out of Warwick ‘stir’ (gaol) where he had been doing fourteen ‘jacks’ (days) for ‘gagging’.
[US]J. Lait ‘Charlie the Wolf’ Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 52: A guy what’s lived the life I have, what’s chivvied a livin’ off o’ secon’ stories for thirty years barrin’ when I was in stir.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 42: Sing Sing was a tough joint in those days, one of the worst stirs in the United States.
[US]R. Whitfield Green Ice (1988) 171: He figured with you just coming out of stir the green ice would be safe.
[Ire]Eve. Herald (Dublin) 9 Dec. 4/6: Other [underworld] terms include : — ‘Flatty’ (policeman), ‘peach’ (to give away), ‘Peter’ (safe), ‘monkey’ (padlock), ‘stick’ (jemmy), ‘van dragger’ (motor thief), ‘snow’ (cocaine), ‘madam’ (misleading conversation) ‘stir’ (prison).
[UK]S. Jackson Indiscreet Guide to Soho 116: He had had ‘offers’ as soon as he came out of ‘stir’.
[Aus]S.J. Baker in Sun. Herald (Sydney) 8 June 9/5: Other English incorporations [in Australian slang] include: [...] ‘stir,’ gaol.
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 81: Out of stir at last, he and his partner ransacked a large summer house.
[UK]J. Gosling Ghost Squad 25: Thieves’ argot, spoken properly, is a foreign language which needs to be learned [...] ‘porridge’ or ‘stir’ means prison— from the staple diet of jail menus.
[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 116: Now I did a hitch in San Quentin, / just to keep an old moll out a the stir, / but don’t you think I was sick when I found out the dick / that pinched me was livin’ with her?
[UK]G.F. Newman Sir, You Bastard 71: Tasting stir, Goldby [...] realized he was the wrong side of thirty for acquiring the habit.
[US]D. Woodrell Muscle for the Wing 30: The things she’d been pondering for the twenty-two months that Ronnie Bouvier had been in stir.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 21: Mickey Cohen in stir. [...] Cohen was at McNeil Island Federal Prison.
[UK]N. Barlay Hooky Gear 140: My imagination must of turn grey in stir.
[US]Simon & Burns ‘The Detail’ Wire ser. 1 ep. 2 [TV script] Motherfucker tried to put you ass in the stir.
[US]L. Berney Gutshot Straight [ebook] ‘Beats the food in stir?’ He smiled. ‘You ever do time?’.

2. (US prison) time served in prison .

[US]P. Beatty Sellout (2016) 12: A secret diary kept since a stir in juvenile hall.

In derivatives

stirry (adj.)

stressed from enduring a repetitive situation, typically prison.

[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 149: ‘All I know,’ Chesty says, ‘is that he is a little stirry [...] He talks to himself a lot. Yes,’ Chesty says, ‘he is without doubt stir-crazy.’.
[US]‘Richard Hooker’ M*A*S*H (2004) 155: We’re all starting to get stirry again. We need something to do.

In compounds

stir belly (n.)

(US prison) indigestion caused by tension or fear.

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 212/1: Stir-belly. (P) A common type of nervous indigestion that affects many convicts after years of nerve-racking routine and prison diet.
[US]Other Side of the Wall: Prisoner’s Dict. July [Internet] [...] ‘Stir belly’ described indigestion caused by tension or fear.
stir-bug (n.) (also stir-nut) [bug n.4 (3d); nut n.2 (1)]

(US prison) one who has gone mad due to the pressures of incarceration.

Muskogee Times-Democrat (OK) 17 Sept. 4/3: ‘The old stir-bugs could freeze the marrow in your bones with their tales’.
[US]C. Coe Me – Gangster 44: He was a stir bug [...] They call them stir bugs because being in prison is being in stir, and after you have been there ten years or more you are sure to be nutty.
[US]Hostetter & Beesley It’s a Racket! 239: stirbug—Criminal mentally unbalanced by prison life.
[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl. 72: stirnut, n. A convict who has lost his mind after years of close confinement.
[US]V.G. Burns Female Convict (1960) 77: She goes bats at night and yells like hell – she’s a real stir bug!
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 212/2: Stir-bug. A convict or ex-convict whose mind and nerves have been affected by years of prison routine. [Note: Commonest superficial symptoms are glazed eyes, a nervous, preoccupied manner, and frequent suffering from delusions.].
[US]F. Elli Riot (1967) 150: How’n in hell ya gonna talk to a stir-bug like that? [...] He’s a ravin’ lunatic.
[US]Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 29: Stir Crazy Some men who come to prison cannot mentally adjust to the many hours of continuous confinement in their cells. [...] (Archaic: stir-bug, dingaling).
[US]Dly News (NY) 4 May 26/5: ‘I’ve been around every kind of street punk, skell [...] stir-bug and wiseguy you can imagine’.
stir-bugs (adj.) (also stir-bug, stir-nuts, stir-nutty, stir-psycho, stir-simple, stir-wacky) [bug adj./bugs adj./nuts adj. (2)/nutty adj.2 (2)/psycho adj. (3)]

(Can./US prison) insane from too long a confinement in prison.

[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 419: Stir bugs – prison crazy.
[US]R.J. Tasker Grimhaven 43: He must have been goofy – stir-simple.
[US]N. Algren Somebody in Boots 294: A little half-witted Jew known only as ‘Stir-Nuts’.
[US]D. Lamson We Who Are About to Die 63: This little jig was screwy [...] Stir-simple, I guess; he’d been here a long time.
[US]Mencken Amer. Lang. (4th edn) 581: In virtually all American prisons [...] To go crazy while in confinement is to go stir-bug.
[US]Howsley Argot: Dict. of Und. Sl. 49: stir nutty – see ‘stir crazy’.
[US]C.B. Davis Rebellion of Leo McGuire (1953) 169: You wasn’t in Canon long enough to get stir simple.
[US]J. Archibald ‘When a Body Meets a Body’ in Popular Detective Sept. [Internet] I been cooped up here in the kitchen so long [...] It is bein’ stir nutty all over again.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 102: go stir-bug To go crazy while in prison.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 212/2: Stir-bugs. [...] ‘I must be gettin’ stir-bugs or blowing my top (going insane) altogether. I bust out laughing over nothin’ and when somethin’ funny makes other ghees (fellows) laugh, I bug up (get mad).’.
[US]N. Algren Walk on the Wild Side 258: I went back and talked to the stir-simple kukes in the clink.
Chesterton Dly Mail (Charleston, WV) 28 June 8/2: In close quarters, privacy and territorial ights [...] curtailed [...] the sad spectacle of a break down [...] results.’ Translation — don’t go stir-wacky.
[US]F. Elli Riot (1967) 167: The stir-psycho bastard was sixty pounds lighter.
[US]G. Cuomo Among Thieves 289: And the screws themselves, they said, were either all gimpies or else a little stirbugs too, because who in their right mind would want to work in a place like that.
[Can]R. Caron Go-Boy! 271: George started going stir bugs too.
stirbum (n.)

(US Und.) a veteran jailbird, esp. when institutionalized.

[US]W. Scott ‘Take ’Im Alive’ Und. Mag. May [Internet] Michael Whorl, taxidermist—an old stir-bum, known to th’ mob as Chuck ‘Hardhead’ Yandi.
News Record (Neenah, WI) 9 Jan. 2/6: I should now be [...] institutionalized [...] Such inmates we call stir bums.
stir cramps (n.)

(US prison) psychological/physical problems that come with a jail sentence.

[US]‘Red’ Rudensky Gonif 92: I was going through what the cons call ‘stir cramps’ [...] My sleep was restless; I was dreaming of home. My father’s face would flash before me and then some dame’s.
stir-crazy (adj.) (also stir-batty, stir-happy, stir-looney, stir-nutty) [SE crazy/happy/batty adj.1 /loony adj. (1)]

(orig. US) used of a prisoner who has succumbed to prison-induced insanity; thus stir-craziness n., psychosis induced by imprisonment; also ext. to non-prison use.

Stevens Point Jrnl (WI) 25 July 5/1: ‘I’m stir crazy, that’s what I am. How could any man be locked up in this jail for 19 months and not get a screw loose’.
Austin American (TX) 16 Dec. 5/1: ‘I’m what they call stir-crazy — you get that way rotting in jail’.
[UK]Oakland Trib. (CA) 19 Jan. 3/7: ‘The best these men can hope for is a life sentence [...] and men long imprisoned become ‘stir-nuty’.
[UK]Sunderland Dly Echo 12 Dec. 2/7: With the new order of things, we will be able to reduce the number of ‘stir-crazy’ offenders.
[US]J. Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath (1951) 158: Couldn’t think a nothin in there, else you go stir happy.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 149: ‘All I know,’ Chesty says, ‘is that he is a little stirry [...] He talks to himself a lot [...] he is without doubt stir-crazy.’.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 43: I sure didn’t mean what it said in the song. I wasn’t that stir-happy.
[US]B. Appel Plunder (2005) 224: You’da thought me stir crazy if I’d said a thing about it in the stockade.
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 302: ‘Stir craziness’, or prison psychosis [...] has been almost erased.
[US]‘Blackie’ Audett Rap Sheet 174: That silence stuff can drive you stir-batty. [Ibid.] 192: He was gone. Flipped-off. Plumb stir-looney.
Hartford Courant (CT) 9 May 1/1: He finds a pigeon [...] and it’s sitting there cooing like a stir-happy lifer.
[US]F. Elli Riot (1967) 6: All the rest of the stir-crazy hardnoses.
[Can]R. Caron Go-Boy! 50: If a guy found himself going stir crazy and unable to keep it bottled up any longer, he’d toss his tools down.
[NZ]G. Newbold Big Huey 254: stir-craziness Prison pyschosis.
[US]Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 29: Stir Crazy Some men who come to prison cannot mentally adjust to the many hours of continuous confinement in their cells.
[NZ]A. Duff One Night Out Stealing 134: I ain’t stir-crazy, Jube. Stir-sick, yeh.
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Real Life 3 Oct. 4: Now I go every day [...] If I don’t get out there I’m stir-crazy.
[Ire]P. Howard Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress 119: I’m pretty much going stir-crazy in my room.
[Aus]G. Disher Heat [ebook] ‘I’m going stir-crazy here’.
stir croaker (n.) [croaker n.5 (1)]

(US prison) a second-rate, barely qualified doctor, assigned to prison work.

Buffalo Courier (NY) 27 Nov. 56/1: No longer could the stir croaker (doctor) write on a con’s death certificate ‘cause of death, cerebral hemorrhage’ if the real cause [...] was a fractured skull caused by a sap in the hands of a screw.
[US]W.R. Burnett High Sierra in Four Novels (1984) 290: The stir croaker says I’m not in such hot shape.
[US]T. Runyon In For Life 243: The grapevine told of prisons where the doctors were ‘stir croakers’ and the convict nurses little better.
stir hustler (n.) [hustler n. (4)]

(US prison) one who has mastered the ‘art’ of incarceration.

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 212/2: Stir-hustler. (P) One who exhibits a talent for serving a prison term comfortably; hence, by implication, a failure as a thief outside of prison.
[US]Other Side of the Wall: Prisoner’s Dict. July [Internet] A ‘stir hustler’ mastered the art of imprisonment.
stir lawyer (n.)

(US prison) a fellow prisoner who offers advice based on his own purported legal expertise.

Sioux City Jrnl (IA) 22 Oct, 15/5: Convicts and guards know ‘Big George’ as a ‘stir lawyer’.
[US]Detroit Free Press (MI) 26 Jan. 13/1: The State Prison at Jackson is full of amateur lawyers. Or, in prison parlance, ‘stir lawyers’.
[US]D. Dressler Parole Chief 99: A ‘stir lawyer’ [...] advises inmates how to behave before the Parole Board, how to explain infractions of prison rules, [etc.].
[Ire](con. 1940s) B. Behan Borstal Boy 322: He reckons you’re a regular old stir-lawyer.
stir-nuts/-psycho/-simple/-wacky (adj.)

see stir-bugs

stirwise (adj.) [-wise sfx]

(US Und.) well-adjusted to prison life, capable of sustaining one’s existence in prison.

[US]Indianapolis Star 13 Apr. 22/6: Stir-wise — A man versed in prison, and prison-avoiding, lore.
[US]L.E. Lawes Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing 37: He was world-wise and stir (prison) wise.
[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl.
[US]R. Chandler ‘Goldfish’ Red Wind (1946) 170: I’ll stay under cover. He’s too stir-wise for me.
[US]Star Press (Muncie, IN) 12 Sept. 9/1: The person who is not stire-wise [...] would be classified as ‘fresh meat’ or ‘fish’.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 212/2: Stirwise. (P) Familiar with complexities of prison life, hence able to serve time with a minimum of discomfort insofar as rules and regulations are concerned.
[US]Tampa Bay Times (St Petersburg, FL) 24 Sept. 17/1: The suspects, reportedly ‘stir-wise,’ aren’t in a hurry to confess.
Jrnl News (White plains, NY) 22 Mar. 10/2: The clever, glib, stir-wise and sophisticated con man.
Statesman Jrnl (Salem, OR) 5 Aug. 21/3: A chronicle of the evolution of a street tough into a stir-wise convict.
[Aus]Age (Melbourne) Green Guide 11 Mar. 25/3: Lifer Tim Robbins [...] forms an unlikely [...] bond with stir-wise Morgan Freeman.

In phrases

big stir (n.)

(US Und.) a Federal prison.

[US]D. Runyon ‘The Informal Execution of Soupbone Pew’ From First to Last (1954) 68: He had nerve, and was smart, and stood well with everybody, but a little stretch in the big stir got to him.
crush the stir (v.) (also crush the stur) [crush v.1 (1)]

(UK Und.) to break out of prison.

[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era 100/1: Crush the stur (Thieves’). To break from prison – stur being abbreviation of sturaban. ‘A short time after I ascertained from the jailor who payed me a visit, that my two “fly” friends had “crushed the stir”, and were at large, ready to prey on the community again.’.