Etymology
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penitentiary (n.)

early 15c., penitenciarie, "place of punishment for offenses against the church," also "a priest appointed to administer the sacrament of penance," especially in extraordinary cases, from Medieval Latin penitentiaria, from fem. of penitentiarius (adj.) "of penance," from Latin paenitentia "penitence" (see penitence).

The meaning "house of correction, prison in which convicts are confined for punishment and reformation and compelled to labor" (originally an asylum for prostitutes) is from 1806, short for penitentiary house (1776). Slang shortening pen is attested from 1884.

As an adjective, from 1570s as "relating to penance," by 1791 as "expressive of contrition."

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pen (n.3)

slang, "prison," 1884, shortening of penitentiary; earlier use (1845) probably is a figurative extension of pen (n.2) "enclosure for animals."

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bughouse (adj.)

1895, "crazy, insane," from bug (n.) + house (n.); probably originally tramps' jargon. As a noun, from 1891 as "insanity," 1898 as "insane asylum."

IT is often the case in the Penitentiary, as well as in the out side world, that men get "wheels in their head," and "talk through their hats." When a "boy" gets in this "offish" state the prisoners call him "buggy" he becomes a bug-a-boo, and to keep him safe so that he can hurt no one, nor destroy himself, he is duly examined, and when adjudged "bugy" is placed for safe keeping in the "Bug House." [Dan J. Morgan, "Historical Lights and Shadows of the Ohio Penitentiary," 1898]
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penology (n.)

"study of punishment for crime and crime prevention," 1838, coined apparently by Francis Lieber, corresponding member of the Philadephia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, from pen- as in penitentiary (ultimately from Latin poena "penalty, punishment;" see penal) + -ology "study of." Related: Penologist; penological.

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felony (n.)
c. 1300, "treachery, betrayal; deceit; villainy, wickedness, sin, crime; violent temper, wrath; ruthlessness; evil intention," from Old French felonie (12c.) "wickedness, evil, treachery, perfidy, crime, cruelty, sin," from Gallo-Roman *fellonia, from fellonem "evil-doer" (see felon).

As a class of crime in common law, also from c. 1300, from Anglo-French. The exact definition changed over time and place, and even the distinction from misdemeanor or trespass is not always observed. In old use often a crime involving forfeiture of lands, goods, or a fee or a crime punishable by death. Variously used in the U.S.; often the sense is "crime punishable by death or imprisonment in a state penitentiary."
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big (adj.)

c. 1300, at first found chiefly in northern England and north Midlands writing, "powerful, strong," of obscure origin, possibly from a Scandinavian source (compare Norwegian dialectal bugge "great man"). Old English used micel (see much) in many of the same senses. It came into general use c. 1400. Meaning "of great size" is late 14c.; that of "full-grown, grown up" is attested from late 14c. Sense of "important, influential, powerful" is from c. 1400. Meaning "haughty, inflated with pride" is from 1570s. Meaning "generous" is U.S. colloquial by 1913.

Big band as a musical style is from 1926. Slang big head "conceit" is first recorded 1850. Big business "large commercial firms collectively" is from 1913 (before that it meant "a profitable income in business"). Big top "main tent of a circus" is from 1895. Big game "large animals hunted for sport" is from 1864. Big house "penitentiary" is U.S. underworld slang first attested 1915 (in London, "a workhouse," 1851). In financial journalism, big ticket items so called from 1956. Big lie is from Hitler's grosse Lüge.

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