Jail. The penitentiary. The lock-up. The hoosegow.Up the river. A place to be avoided, if possible.

This probably evolved from criminal slang, and especially, prisoner slang. When you spend a lot of time in prison, you have two houses: the little house with wives and kids and freedom, where you'd prefer to be, and the big house, where the food sucks, you can't see the sky, and everyone seems to want to stick a shiv in your neck. Gimme the little house any day of the week...

The Big House is also a nickname for the football stadium for the University of Michigan. Completed in 1927 for a whopping total of $950,000 with an original seating capacity of ~72,000. Since then it has been upgraded several times and now not-so-comfortably seats 107,501.

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