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October 21, 2019

Etymologies of All the Old-Timey Synonyms For "Whore" Found in the Dungeon Masters Guide "Random Harlot Encounters" Table

From the first edition DMG:


I looked up the etymology of "hussy" in the sidebar and then thought to look up the etymologies of the other words in that infamous City Encounters sub-table.

Here's what I've learned.

N.B.: I might slip in some Gygaxian infras and Cf.s.

"Slovenly Trull

Trull might come from "trollop" or "troll" (see infra) or might come from the French trellier "to hunt."

Hunting for The D? I think so.

Another source says it comes from the German Trulle, which means prostitute. But that, in turn, might just come from "troll" again.

And troll, interestingly enough, might be related to trendle or better yet trundel, which is a wheel or a spindle. Which would make sense when you think about "trolling for fish" while fishing -- maybe the word was originally "trendling" or "trundling," winding your line back to entice fish? Or maybe winding up a fishing net to troll for fish? Which then got shortened to trell or troll?

By the way, the world "sloven" itself is a noun, and can just itself mean an "immoral woman."

late 15c., "immoral woman," later (16c.) also "rascal, knave" (regardless of gender); probably from a continental Germanic source

The roots of sloven are about messiness and untidiness -- and carelessness in dress. Notions that are going to keep popping up in these etymologies.

"Brazen Strumpet"

Strumpet is of uncertain origin, but there are some strong guesses -- but which guess is right, who knows.

One theory connects it with Latin stuprata, fem. past participle of stuprare "have illicit sexual relations with," or Late Latin strupum "dishonor, violation." But evidence for this is wanting and others suggest Middle Dutch strompe "a stocking," or strompen "to stride, to stalk" (as a prostitute might a customer). The major sources don't seem to give much preference to any of these.

Maybe these are all related. Interestingly, "strum" is listed in a 1785 dictionary of vulgar terms:

TO STRUM: to have carnal knowledge of a woman, also to play badly on the harpsichord or any other stringed instrument. [Capt. Francis Grose, "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 1785]

By the way, "brazen" just means "made of brass," and apparently the expression used to be brazen-faced, which I guess meant so unapologetic about one's behavior that no sign of shame showed on one's face.

"Cheap Trollop"

"Cheap" of course comes up in a lot of these words, in the sense of "low-born" of of low character.

Trollop might come from the verb "to troll," which means a bunch of things that might have to do with either being unclean or prostitution. "To troll," as to entice or lure (as trolls on the internet do, into arguments) actually goes back to 1906, and can also mean "to saunter," which is a way that prostitutes trolling for customers sometimes walk.

"Typical Streetwalker"

Streetwalker is so obvious it's barely worth noting -- it's a woman who walks the streets looking for customers. A cheap prostitute.

But interestingly enough, "streetwalker" didn't originally mean "prostitute," it just mean the average citizen who might be walking on the street.

Typical comes from "type," of course. "Type" in the sense of "kind" and "type" in the sense of "letters formed by an impression" both come from a general meaning of typus meaning "kind, sort, form, impression."

"Saucy Tart"

Tart is claimed to come from a shortening of a greeting to an attractive woman -- either "sweetheart" or "jam tart."

"Saucy" just means "impertinent, flippantly bold, cheeky," and just comes from "sauce." I guess the idea is that sauce is spicy and flavorful?

Mikey NTH adds:

86 "Sauce" means to give back-chat, or lip. My grandfather wrote a letter from Santa Claus to my dad and his sister wherein he mentioned that dad had giving his grandmother some sauce.

"Wanton Wench"

Wench was another one that started out perfectly nice, meaning just "young girl" in Middle English.

It comes from the earlier Old English "wencel," meaning "child, servant, slave." Maybe serf or peasant, they mean?

"Wanton" has a more complicated etymology, consisting of wan and the root word which became the "ton."

Wan- used to be a prefix, coming from the Old English meaning "lacking" or "without" and also used interchangeably as a negation like our own un- is used today. (Though apparently the words aren't proven to be related; un- is itself pretty old, but there's gotta be a connection here, I'd think.)

The "ton" part comes from Middle English towen, meaning "discipline."

So wanton altogether used to mean "undisciplined, unruly," which then became "lewd" and poorly brought-up and ill-behaved.

A "wanton" itself is a noun, too, meaning someone who is ill-behaved, etc.

Also, apparently "to wanton" used to be a verb, meaning "to revel, frolic unrestrainedly."

Although it sure seems like "wan" and "wane" must be related to "wan-," the prefix, there's no acknowledged connection.

"Expensive Doxy"

Doxy, my favorite entry on the table, similarly seems to have come first from an attempt to compliment a good-looking woman as a docke, from the Dutch or German for "doll."

"Haughty Courtesan"

Courtesan does, as you might guess, refer to the court, as in "a lady of the court." Apparently this was used in a sarcastic or joking way, or as a euphemism, like the high-fallutin' sounding "Lady of the Night:"

1540s, from Middle French courtisane, from Italian cortigiana "prostitute," literally "woman of the court" (a mock-use or euphemism), fem. of cortigiano "one attached to a court," from corte "court," from Latin cortem (see court (n.)).

"Haughty" means "haught" -- the high sense of oneself -- which comes from the French haut, which just means "high."

"Aged Madam"

Well, I'm sure you can probably guess this, and I'm only guessing it myself, but
Madam must come from "madame of the house," which would be a completely innocent thing to call a housewife, but gets associated with prostitution when the house in question is a brothel.

The etymology of "age" is more interesting, if you're curious.

"Wealthy Procuress"

Procuress is just the female form of procurer, of course.

Procurer means "one who procures things," or one who obtains or gets things. In this context, it means a pimp, who procures customers for prostitutes.

The word procurer comes from the Old French procureor meaning "agent, proxy, or representative." (A pimp is therefore a doxy-proxy.)

That word comes from the Latin/Roman procurator, "an agent representing others in a court of law in countries retaining Roman civil law."

In France, procureur still means "prosecutor" or magistrate or state's representative in matters of justice, and of course our own "prosecutor" comes from the same general Latin roots, though not, apparently, directly from the French.

One might say that this proves that all government ministers are whores, or servants of whores.

"Sly Pimp"

Pimp is of unknown origin. two guesses:

c. 1600, of unknown origin, perhaps from Middle French pimpant "alluring in dress, seductive," present participle of pimper "to dress elegantly" (16c.), from Old French pimpelorer, pipelorer "decorate, color, beautify." Weekley suggests Middle French pimpreneau, defined in Cotgrave [French-English Dictionary, 1611] as "a knave, rascall, varlet, scoundrell," but Liberman is against this.

Wiktionary suggests it might also come from the German Pimpf,, meaning a young boy. Originally the word was "Pumpf," meaning, with full onomatopoeia, "little fart."

"Sly," by the way, is pretty interesting itself. It maybe comes from the idea of being quick and ready to strike with a weapon.

c. 1200, "skillful, clever, dexterous," from Old Norse sloegr "cunning, crafty, sly," from Proto-Germanic *slogis (source also of Low German slu "cunning, sly," German schlau), probably from base *slak- "to strike, hit" (see slay (v.)), with an original notion of "able to hit." Compare German verschlagen "cunning, crafty, sly," schlagfertig "quick-witted," literally "strike-ready," from schlagen "to strike."

"Rich Panderer"

"Pander" just comes from names used in Chaucer and earlier sources:

"arranger of sexual liaisons, one who supplies another with the means of gratifying lust," 1520s, "procurer, pimp," from Middle English Pandare (late 14c.), used by Chaucer ("Troylus and Cryseyde"), who borrowed it from Boccaccio (who had it in Italian form Pandaro in "Filostrato") as name of the prince (Greek Pandaros), who procured the love of Cressida (his niece in Chaucer, his cousin in Boccaccio) for Troilus.

About Pandarus:

In Homer's Iliad he is portrayed as an energetic and powerful warrior, but in medieval literature he becomes a witty and licentious figure who facilitates the affair between Troilus and Cressida.

In Shakespeare's play Troilus and Cressida, he is portrayed as an aged degenerate and coward who ends the play by telling the audience he will bequeath them his "diseases".

That's all of them -- except of course for Harlot, which gives the name to the table.

Harlot comes from the Old French "harlot" or "arlot," meaning vagabond or (right on the nose) tramp. Apparently earlier French had it as "harlot" or "herlot" and it referred to a either a male or female of low birth -- it used to mean "knave" or "rogue" or "cheat" or "rascal."

Hmm. It might have meant "actor."

Used in positive as well as pejorative senses by Chaucer; applied in Middle English to jesters, buffoons, jugglers, later to actors.

Apparently the word was used by the Bible as a euphemism for "whore" and that's how it came to have its more Dungeons and Dragons-ish meaning.


The word may be Germanic, with an original sense of "camp follower," if the first element is hari "army," as some suspect.

Here are a couple of more that didn't make the DMG chart:

Slut, as many of these words seem to have started, originally meant "untidy woman," and comes from the Old English slutte, which in turn derives from "sloth."

Whore goes back a ways, and seems to have originally meant adulteress:

1530s spelling alteration... of Middle English hore, from Old English hore "prostitute, harlot," from Proto-Germanic *hōran-, fem. *hōrā- (source also of Old Frisian hor "fornication," Old Norse hora "adulteress," Danish hore, Swedish hora, Dutch Hoer, Old High German huora "prostitute"...

Whore itself is perhaps a Germanic euphemism for a word that has not survived. The Old English vowel naturally would have yielded *hoor, which is the pronunciation in some dialects; it might have shifted by influence of Middle English homonym hore "physical filth, slime," also "moral corruption, sin," from Old English hohr.

Apparently the word survived by being one of Shakespeare's favorite words -- he used it 99 times.

Demimondaine wasn't mentioned in the DMG, but they did get at the sense of it by noting that some harlots might only be occasional ones, prostituting themselves out as they choose.

The word demi-monde means literally "half-world," I think getting at the idea of rich, upper-class people living lifestyles often associated with the very poor:

Demi-monde refers to a group of people who live hedonistic lifestyles, usually in a flagrant and conspicuous manner...

The term was often used as one of disapprobation, the behavior of a person in the demimonde being contrary to more traditional or bourgeois values. Such behaviors often included drinking or drug use, gambling, high spending (particularly in pursuit of fashion, as through clothing as well as servants and houses), and sexual promiscuity.

A "demimondaine" is a woman in this set, often a woman of low birth and little money who trades on her looks and often her sexual favors to make her way in highborn society.

Externally, the defining aspects of the demimonde were an extravagant lifestyle of fine food and clothes, often surpassing that of other wealthy women of their day with a steady income of cash and gifts from their various lovers. Internally, their lifestyle was an eclectic mixture of sharp business acumen, social skills, and hedonism. Intelligent demimondaines, like the fictional Gigi's grandmother, would invest their wealth for the day when their beauty faded. Others ended up penniless and starving when age took its toll on their beauty, unless they managed to marry.

A famous beauty was Virginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione, who came to Paris in the 1850s with very little money of her own and soon became mistress of Napoleon III; after that relationship ended she moved on to other wealthy men in government, finance and European royalty. She was one of the most aristocratic and exclusive of the demimondaines--reputed to have charged a member of the British aristocracy one million francs for 12 hours in her company.

Finally: the big one.

We're big kids. We can say it.


Like Billy Blasjowski, I've always felt you can best understand a word if you Break. It. Down.

1520s, "to offer to indiscriminate sexual intercourse (usually in exchange for money)," from Latin prostitutus, past participle of prostituere "to expose to prostitution, expose publicly," from pro "before" (see pro-) + statuere "cause to stand, establish"...

So, to "put it all out for display, right up front, and make something stand."

Billy Blaze was pretty close, really.

If you're not too bored, you can check out where his preferred euphemism for pimp -- "Love Broker" -- came from.

Spoiler: Broker seems to have come from a French word meaning "trader in wine."

digg this
posted by Ace of Spades at 06:51 PM

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