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I'd like to know in what context can the word "joint" be used as a synonym for place.

Is it used for places that sell products and/or services?

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3 Answers 3

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It's a very common and informal way to refer to a business, usually one that sells food or drink. "I run a burger joint in Anchorage." "Lets meet at that joint on the corner of 5th and Main." Usually it will refer to a small, casual restaurant or bar.

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There's also even less formal use to refer to any place whatsoever, and use with the definite article to refer to jail.¹ –  Tyler James Young Apr 8 at 17:48
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In my experience, joint is definitely more likely to be used of a retail outlet if it sells food/drink rather than, say, clothes or newspapers. It also tends to imply that the establishment is small, and that whatever they sell is either consumed on the premises, or it's "fast food" consumed immediately after purchase. Finally, I also think there's a terndency for joints to be places where people meet, rather than just places that sell things. –  FumbleFingers Apr 8 at 17:57
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@FumbleFingers - That comment would make an A-1 answer, imo. –  J.R. Apr 8 at 18:03
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@J.R.: While I was writing my comment, Bob was composing what seems to me a perfectly good answer (not that I can really fault Jolenealaska's, so far as it goes). Of course, there are other contexts, such as casing the joint where the referent might be, say, a bank (or indeed some wildly figurative usage where "the joint" isn't even a physical thing at all, let alone a place where people meet, sell things, or whatever). –  FumbleFingers Apr 8 at 18:19
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@FumbleFingers We need one answer to rule them all! –  Tyler James Young Apr 8 at 18:38

The word joint has lots of meanings, but the relevant OED definition here is...

joint 14 a. slang or colloq. (chiefly US).
A partnership or union, or a place of meeting or resort, esp. of persons engaged in some illicit occupation; spec. (in America) a place illegally kept (usually by Chinese) for opium-smoking, an opium-den; also applied to illicit drinking-saloons.
More generally, a place; a house.

OED also note separately the now somewhat dated (also mainly US) slang usage the joint = prison. They don't specifically say how these usages arose in the first place, but I think it probably turns on the "core" definition joint = the place or part at which two or more things are joined or fitted together; a junction. That's to say, a place where people meet socially (not necessarily to smoke opium or cannabis joints).


In general, joint is definitely more likely to be used of a retail outlet if it sells food/drink rather than, say, clothes or newspapers. It also tends to imply the establishment is small, selling food/drink consumed on the premises, or "fast food" consumed immediately after purchase (still in the vicinity of other customers).

So yes, joints often "sell things". But usually they're places people go to as much for social interaction as for the products/services they actually buy (such as licensed premises, coffee shops, burger bars, etc.). If a domestic residence is referred to as "So-and-so's joint", you can probably assume people often use it as a meeting place to see each other, not just to visit whoever lives there.

There's also the idiomatic case the joint (look over an establishment, usually with intent to rob), but I can't really see how that relates to the more general usage. It seems to be something of a "one-off".

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It's a slang term, referring to a place where people gather to socialize and engage in activities that are slightly frowned upon in society. Good examples are a bar, a pool hall, or perhaps a casino. Very often, the term is used facetiously: "come on over and hang out at my joint" would be an invitation to come visit me at home.

"The joint" is also a slang term for prison, probably as a sarcastic reference to the meaning I have described above.

See definition 3 in this.

[edit] after reading all the notes, I see I hadn't thought of "burger joint, pizza joint" when I was making my answer. So, "casual eating place" is another pretty distinct definition. [/edit]

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I like this answer, although it should be noted that the term goes a little broader than this. This is my favorite pizza joint doesn't suggest shaky morality, just really good pizza. –  J.R. Apr 8 at 18:03
    
I like definition 3 here better. In my experience, usage comes without implications against the moral character of the establishment. Incidentally, I've never heard anyone refer to their own residence this way. "Crib" or "pad" would be more likely, I think. –  Tyler James Young Apr 8 at 18:03
    
@J.R. After I wrote my comment I had the thought that there might be some bleed-over from “clip joint”, but I still agree that the noun alone isn't strong enough to denegrate a place's respectability. –  Tyler James Young Apr 8 at 18:10
    
The morality implication probably stems from gin joint, a name for speakeasies during prohibition. I don't think that implication carries over at all when we refer to that place on the corner as a joint. –  Jolenealaska Apr 8 at 19:11
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I don't think it's correct to say that "joint" is used for places that are "frowned on by society". I think it's more like, for places that are considered extremely casual. A place that sells pizza may be called "that pizza joint". I've never heard someone call a gourmet restaurant "that French joint" except as a joke. A place where people play pool and listen to a garage band may be "the pool joint"; a place where they hold Bible studies and listen to hymns is not called "a hymn joint" -- again, except as a joke. But few think there's anything immoral about playing pool or eating pizza. –  Jay Apr 8 at 19:16

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