Thursday, May 25, 2006

word of the day: harlot

The idea that Arlette, the unmarried mother of William the Conqueror is an eponym for
harlot eponym is an old one, first suggested circa 1570 by William Lambarde.
Arlette was the daughter of Fulbert, a tanner in Falaise, and Robert the Magnificent had his
way with her, producing William.
It is an interesting and true tale, but all sources agree that it is not the origin of the word.

Harlot derives from the Old French herlot, which means a vagabond or beggar.
This was the original sense of the English word also. The earliest usages are derogatory
in nature, but by the midfourteenth century it was being used in a positive sense and was
applied to jesters, buffoons, jugglers, or any man of good cheer. It was in this sense that
Chaucer described the Sumonour of his Canterbury Tales:
"He was a gentil harlot and a kynde, A bettre felawe sholde men noght fynde."

Interestingly, the original derogatory sense had not faded by Chaucer's
day as this passage from the Reeve's Tale shows: "Ye false harlot, quod the Millere hast?"

Originally, the word only referred to males, and it was not until the fifteenth century that the
word was applied to women.
The word gradually became associated with actors, and inevitably
with prostitutes.
The narrowing of the meaning to the latter was likely largely due to English
translations of the Bible. Sixteenth century translations, such as the Geneva Bible of 1560
began using harlot where Wyclif's earlier translation had used strumpet and whore.


Joefish said...

William The Conqueror. That's definitely an upgrade from his previous moniker, William The Bastard.

THE DUKE said...

Well, if you're gonna be one, you might as well know what it really means... ;-)

Party Girl said...

Joefish: Well, that is one way to look at it.

Duke: Hey....!

I prefer slut puppy or whore dog

GirlGoyle said...

I so prefer the word whore to harlot. It just works better if you add some umph to it.