1/24/13 - euphemisms for prostitute

In today's encore selection -- euphemisms for the word "prostitute":

"If prostitutes are members of the world's oldest profession, then devising alternative names for them is one of the oldest forms of euphemizing. Streetwalker—in use for more than four centuries—is among the most euphemistic. Christian essayist G. K. Chesterton once fretted that referring to women who sold their bodies as simply 'ones who walked the streets' condoned this contemptible occupation. Other euphemistic terms that might have concerned Chesterton include sporting lady, fancy lady, lady of the night, working girl, call girl, and party girl. Perhaps alluding to their status as members of the oldest profession, some prostitutes in his time called themselves professionals. When academy was a euphemism for 'brothel,' those who worked there were called academicians.

"Prostitute first appeared in the early seventeenth century as a euphemism for 'whore,' one that drew on the Latin verb prostituere, or "offer for sale." (A female character in Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre, says 'prostitute me to the basest groom / That doth frequent your house.') Whore evolved from the Anglo-Saxon 'hore,' which some etymologists think may be a euphemism for a word never recorded. After 'whore' took on connotations, sixteenth-century translations of the Bible replaced that word with harlot. This term originally referred to a disreputable young man, then was applied to women who liked to kick up their heels, then to prostitutes. In time, "harlot" itself became so contaminated that it could no longer appear in respectable publications.

"Another synonym for 'prostitute,' tart, has an interesting etymology. Originally that noun referred to a small pastry, as it still does today. Over time, 'tart' was used affectionately for a sweet young woman, then for women considered sexually alluring, After that, 'tart' became synonymous with a promiscuous woman. Finally, it referred to women who charged for sexual services, at best 'a tart with a heart,"

"During the American Civil War, camp followers, whose ranks included 'canteen girls,' and 'drink sellers,' offered soldiers their wares (themselves, mostly). Contrary to popular assumption, the term 'hooker' did not originate with camp followers of soldiers commanded by Union General Joseph 'Fighting Joe' Hooker. Although it's true that during General Hooker's era, Washington's many prostitutes were sometimes called 'Hooker's Division,' calling any such woman a hooker predates the Civil War by at least a couple of decades. According to lexicographer Stuart Berg Flexner, 'hooker' originally referred to prostitutes who worked in Corlear's Hook during the mid-nineteenth century, a section of New York also commonly known as 'the Hook.' They were hookers. Others believe that this appellation originated with the fact that prostitutes said they hooked customers. Their brothels were called hook shops.

"Determining what to call prostitutes has long vexed members of the media, When a play opened in New York in 1934 that included a character called 'The Young Whore,' one newspaper there changed her designation to 'A Young Girl Who has Gone Astray.' Three years later, when Bette Davis played a prostitute in Marked Woman, her character was called a nightclub hostess. In From Here to Eternity (1953), the prostitute played by Donna Reed (yes, that Donna Reed) was referred to as simply a hostess, In the euphemism business, vagueness reigns.

"At one time, model could be a euphemism for 'prostitute.' ('Model for hire.') Today, to the dismay of legitimate masseuses, their job title often doubles as such a euphemism. More often, contemporary call girls call themselves escorts, a term Amy Fisher—who once worked for an escort service—called 'prostitution lite.' In the Philippines, Guest Relation Officer, or GRO, is a euphemism for 'prostitute.' Teenage girls in Hong Kong, who go on paid 'dates' with older men that may involve sex, call this compensated dating.

"One of the most forlorn euphemisms for compensated sex that I've ever seen was in a news article about South Asian women who'd been laid off from factory jobs. Asked what she and her colleagues were doing now, one said that a young coworker was engaged in 'making men happy.' "


Ralph Keyes


Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms


Little, Brown and Company


Copyright 2010 by Ralph Keyes


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