Stretch, n. 
Posted: 15 August 2012 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Just watched the Ealing police procedural film The Long Arm, 1956, and heard this:

It can’t be him. He’s inside doing half a stretch.

Now I know that stretch is slang for term of imprisonment, usually qualified as two stretch, five stretch, ten stretch, ie a two year term, five, ten, but I wasn’t aware that unqualified it could mean a specific term. But, as OED shows, it indeed can.

stretch, n.

7

b. A term of hard labour; twelve months as a term of imprisonment. Also loosely, a prison sentence (freq. with preceding numeral signifying the number of years). Also transf.

1821 Life D. Haggart (ed. 2) 138, I was then sentenced to lag for seven stretch.
1857 ‘Ducange Anglicus’ Vulgar Tongue 21 Stretch, hard labour, in prison. Th[ieves]. Stretch, twelve months hard labour. Th.
1888 ‘R. Boldrewood’ Robbery under Arms iv, There’s a lot of law! How did I learn it? I had plenty of time in Berrima Gaol—worse luck—my first stretch.
1949 ‘M. Innes’ Journeying Boy ix. 109 If we were getting him a stretch, we could go to bed feeling we had done something useful.
1951 P. Branch Lion in Cellar xx. 222 He’s in Joe Gurr again. He got nicked in Cardiff on a snout gaff… It’s only a two stretch and a lot of the Boys had their collars felt.

So half a stretch turns out to be 6 months. Any of these usages familiar in the US or Australia?

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Posted: 15 August 2012 10:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’d be hesitant to consider that “stretch” as in “stretch of time” would be applied to a specific length of time nowadays. Aren’t prison terms clouded by such things as “time served” and other contingencies?

Sentencing and time in prison may have been simpler in 1821 (the date 1821 gleaned from the OED quote, above).

[ Edited: 15 August 2012 01:41 PM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 15 August 2012 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I don’t get it , aldi. Why do you say that in “half a stretch” the word “stretch” is unqualified? Isn’t “half” as much a quantitative statement as one, two, three, etc.? Am I missing your point entirely?*

*Can’t be the vodka, I ran out of it yesterday

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Posted: 15 August 2012 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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FWIW, I’ve never heard of a “stretch” automatically referring to a year in prison. I would consider it an out-dated expression anyway but as you say, I’ve always heard it qualified with a number.

Modern slang in my neck of the woods for a year in jail is “doing a bullet.”

Again, in my neck of the woods… the year in jail deal is significant in that if a judge wants to mess with you, they will sentence you to a year and a day. Sentences over 1 year must be served in prison. A one year sentence or less can be served in a local jail where it is much easier for family to visit, and much more likely you will be released early.

Don’t ask how I know this…

[ Edited: 15 August 2012 11:33 AM by happydog ]
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Posted: 15 August 2012 01:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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lionello - 15 August 2012 11:15 AM

I don’t get it , aldi. Why do you say that in “half a stretch” the word “stretch” is unqualified? Isn’t “half” as much a quantitative statement as one, two, three, etc.? Am I missing your point entirely?*

*Can’t be the vodka, I ran out of it yesterday

You misunderstand, lionello. I was referring to the unqualified stretch meaning 12 months in prison in the OED definition. And I myself wonder whether that usage is still current.

[ Edited: 15 August 2012 01:38 PM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 15 August 2012 09:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks, aldi - got it now.

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Posted: 16 August 2012 01:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The OED entry is second edition (1989), and it looks like one that needs a major overhaul for the third edition.

Green’s has a much better entry for this this slang sense, or rather two, as that dictionary divides it into two senses, 1) a twelve-month term in prison, and 2) a prison sentence of undetermined length.

For the first sense, Green’s has the same 1821 citation as the OED, and includes citations through to 2005, so it seems that this sense is still current:

2005 P. Howard Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress 57: Hennessy is looking down the barrel of a ten-stretch.

The second, undetermined length, sense dates to at least 1857 and, again, is still current.

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