Definition: Prison, particularly a maximum security federal prison (or jail).
Example: 1) After he got caught robbing a bank, Ted was sent to the big house for 20 years.
Etymology: A 'house' is where people live, and a prison is quite large (or 'big'), home to hundreds of criminals. This phrase became popular in the early 1900's, when organized crime and large scale prisons developed in the United States.
Synonyms: up the river, under glass, behind bars