JUVENILE GANGS

I. Introduction

The word "gang" has a long history in our language, and some of that history sheds light on contemporary use of the term and on present social attitudes toward designated groups of adolescents in our cities. In early English usage, "gang" was often employed as a synonym for "a going, a walking, or a journey"; in this sense it traces its origin to the Scandinavian languages. There was also another common meaning of the word, one with an Anglo-Saxon derivation, which appears in print as early as 1340, and which is equivalent to "a number of things used together or forming a complete set." The linguistic ideas of "a journey" and "a set of things" were shortly combined so that "gang", came to stand for a crew of a ship or companies of mariners.

This verbal representation of a group of maritime persons functionally interrelated expanded into the broader designation of gangs as individuals joined together as recognizable entities. The word "gang" also acquired a derogatory connotation, possibly because of the third early meaning attached to it, one which has long since become archaic, but which made "gang" synonymous with "privy." Chaucer, for instance, writing about 1390 with characteristic scatalogical zest, likens "fool wommen" to a "common gonge." When Samuel Johnson put together his dictionary in the late 1700's, he indicated that the word "gang" was "seldom used but in contempt or abhorrence," a view which is borne out in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsors, where a character cries out against "panderly rascals" and notes that "there's a knot, a gang, a pack, a conspiracy against me."

The etymology of the word "gang" provides a starting point from which to examine contemporary social views about juvenile gangs. These social views are constructed from an amalgam of fact, myth, and stereotype, and like all such views, they tend to elicit and to perpetuate the process that they seek to describe. It is one of the noteworthy insights of social. sciences that the isolation and labelling of forms of behavior tend to solidify and sometimes to increase such behavior. Labelling provides a definitional framework in its recognition of a phenomenon, adding a further dimension to its previous characteristics. It is one thing to drink intoxicating beverages, but it is

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Juvenile Gangs
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Preface iv
  • I - Juvenile Gangs 1
  • II - Gangs in Perspective 4
  • III - Gang Studies in the United States 17
  • IV - Gangs in Metropolis 42
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