adulteress, advoutress, aunt, b-girl, baggage, barber’s chair, bayadere, bimbo, bitch, boiled stuff, bona roba, bordel woman, brass, brass nail, bride of the city, broad, brothel, brothrell, bulker, buttock, call girl, carry-knave, cat, causey-paiker, chere amie, chippy, cocodette, cocotte, common, common prostitute, common woman, commoner, community, concubine, courtesan, croshabell, curtal, customer, demimonde, demirep, deuki, devidasi, doll-common, dolly-mops, doxy, easy-make, escort, drab, drivelling, fille de joie, fire-drake, fire-ship, flagger, fling-dust, fling-stink, forligerwif, fornicatress, frail sisterhood, geisha, girl of the town, grisette, hack, hackney, hackney-lady, hackney-wench, hackney-woman, hackster, hetaera, harlot, harridan, hell-moth, high-flyer, ho, hooker, hore, horizontal, horse-breaker, hure, hussy, hustler, jade, joro, jumbler, kedeshah, kennel-nymph, kisaeng, lady of easy virtue, lady of pleasure, lady of the evening, lady of the night, land-frigate, lass, loose fish, lorette, man-leech, market dame, mar-tail, maux, meat, meretrician, meretrix, mermaid, minx, miss, mistress, mob, model, moll, molly, mopsy, moth, mutton, myltestre, night-shade, night-trader, night-walker, night-worm, nocturnal, occupant, pagan, paramour, pavement princess, petite dame, piece, plier, polecat, portcwene, poule-de-luxe, professional, pros, pross, prostisciutto, prostitute, public commoner, public woman, pug, punk, pusher, puta, putain, putanie, pute, quean, queen’s woman, quiff, receiver-general, rig, roller, salope, scarlet woman, screw, scrubber, scupper, sensualist, sex worker, shawl, she-trader, skank, skit, slack, slattern, slut, soiled dove, spiritual wife, split-arse mechanic, stale, stew, stewpot, strange woman, street girl, street-walker, strum, strumpet, tail, tart, tawaif, tayū, tom, town-miss, town-woman, trader, traffic, tragalist, tramp, treadle, trollop, trug, trugmallion, trull, turn-up, tweak, twigger, twopenny upright, unfortunate, unfortunate female, unfortunate woman, vamp, venture, venturer, visor-mask, vizard-mask, waistcoateer, walk-street, wanton, wench, Whetstone whore, white slave, whore, Winchester goose, woman, woman of easy virtue, woman of the town, working girl, yūjo, yum-yum girl, zonah
“The prostitute is a ship to be boarded (fire-ship, land-frigate, scupper), and food to be eaten (boiled stuff, buttock-banqueting, mutton, loose fish, meat). This obviously overlaps with the description of prostitutes as animals. … In addition to referring to sex, sporting-house suggests the last significant source of vocabulary for this section, which is that of pleasure.”
Love, Sex, and Marriage: A Historical Thesaurus
By Julie Coleman
Oh goodness, the above is amazing. I was hoping this would happen and it already did, a reading of the above for the strange patterns that arise from it. There were several that I didn’t include, like the mentioned buttock-banqueting, and the vile lot-lizard, most because all of these are already too easily dumb jokes, unused by anyone involved, the words of silly people who think by giving a stupid name to something they find personally impossible, they are doing something funny. (This is very similar to the logic of rape jokes, at least one of their major strains, the discomfort of certain men at the reality of something called “rape” disavowed by treating it like an archaic or fictional practice. A similar form is in most forms of privileged joking, the impossibility of real racism, for instance, being the engine for dumb white kids laughing at racial slurs.) I’m sure some of the above list are of this kind and I’m not aware enough of the historical context to notice. The violence of some of the names, on the other hand, rings truer to the practices of the men involved. The reason I was looking for a list like this, I wanted to write a short sentence based on an image of some prostitutes that gathered at a Vietnamese restaurant in the immigrant section of Daegu in the middle of the day, waiting for the restaurant to turn into a night-club and brothel later in the day. None of the words I had on hand were appropriate, either too violent or degrading, or too silly, or too clinical. Sex-worker, one of the more appropriate terms, is of the last kind, a flat, unliterary word, proper for certain kinds of discussions as the self-chosen appellation of many of the women who work in the industry or work on their behalf. The strain that struck me wasn’t so much the degrading, silly or clinical. Those seem obvious to thinking about even the words anyone would have on hand. It was the over-literary, the pretentious, the antique greek and latin, the french, demimonde, cocotte,grisette, hetaera, meretrix, etc., that were more unsettling, like the sober variation on the logic of the silly. I was drawn, in the end, to some of the more anglo terms, like mopsy or chippy, which rang the most meaningless to me, neither withdrawn into stupid jokes or literary fantasy, but sounded the most even, uninflected with judgment, rooted in a local accent, if feminine-diminutive. Chippy was out, for being a fish-and-chip shop and for sounding stupid, so I went with mopsy.
I’m sure there’s nothing unproblematic about those words, at least when they were in use, but what drew me to them was exactly my ignorance of how they were unproblematic. It doesn’t do any good, to my eye, to resurrect the ugly shades of a word that has lost them. The death of a context can be an opening to a variety of the word that should exist, both somehow evocative of the social role and the women who live in it, yet able to be used in a context that is neither an attack on those women nor a bullshit fantasy about delightful, literary lives.
Properly, like everything to do with sex-work, the word should be that chosen by the women themselves, in their literature and organization, but this is fraught with wishful thinking and inappropriate capture by those outside. Looking for a preferred term, I found a comment that german sex-worker’s organizations prefer the term hure over prostitute, which they associate with the bureaucratic control of their profession, but the only verification I can find (given my lack of german) is from the wikipedia article on prostitution. The sentence, “In [g]ermany, however, most prostitutes’ organizations deliberately use the word Hure (whore) since they feel that prostitute is a bureaucratic term.” is used verbatim, usually to justify an english speaker’s continued use of whore. As if an unsourced german context made it okay to spit out an epithet whose intention is obvious. The word used most commonly, so it seemed in the little research I was able to do today, was the already-mentioned sex-worker, both in english and other contexts, like the korean word 성 근로자, literally sex-worker, used by the Hanteo National Union of Sex-Workers.
What I want, in this word, is something like my use of hem, a word for beings who are gendered when their gender inappropriately intervenes in the meaning of the sentence. But similar to hem, there is an effacement of real domination here, that while in the sentence as used, the being might not be gendered and affected by the gender practices that surrounded them, they are nevertheless still gendered and affected outside of the sentence. My sentence, given a fake provenance, (more for the pleasure of writing in another’s style and making up lies than disavowal, but perhaps disavowal too. It at least looks that way in this reading.) was:
“The rusheyed mopsy laid out limp across a slack-cushioned couch, skirt pleated up like a bush. She was lazy.”
The last sentence, “She was lazy.” made me laugh when it occurred to me, but every way of writing the earlier word, the one that become mopsy, brought too many unwanted meanings. Sex-worker made the sentence incongruously florid, which was the point of the sentence anyway. Prostitute was either similarly flat, but read also with the negative and exploitative connotations. Violent words like whore were out for obvious reasons. Mopsy was whimsical, funny-sounding, and absent of any real connotation, at least to me, besides the thin strain of the thesaurus connecting it to the prostitute. But there isn’t a way, that I can see, to include a meaningful term for sex-worker that doesn’t emphasize the exploitation to the exclusion of the person. That is, there isn’t a way to talk about sex-workers without having the role or the associated exploitation overwhelm their being. And the point of, “She was lazy,” why I found it funny, is that it’s exactly the kind of sentence that can’t fit with a word that is neither overfull of moral negativity nor emphasizing exploitation. So I was left to choose something vaguely evocative but alien, something that meant little enough to sound right.
I’m not blind to how problematic (in the sense of there being problems, not in the sense of being completely fucked) all of this is. I don’t want to erase the exploitation of women in the sex-industry, neither do I want to reduce them to it, neither do I want to aestheticize their role as an abstraction, neither do I want to childishly joke about them as if they are aliens to be observed. I would like to communicate the image of a vietnamese-korean restaurant and brothel in the middle of the day, and the surrealism provoked by the dominance of these words and associations as they strain against an instance where they don’t fit. At the same time, I’d like to do this without repeating the aesthetic erasure, and I don’t know if that’s possible. Perhaps words are too clumsy. Perhaps I’m too clumsy. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d appreciate it.
Mopsy, Flopsy and Cottontail. A flapper called Bunny, her shorn mop of blonde curls and tomboyish clothes disavowing female sexual restriction.
Common prostitute, common woman, commoner, community struck me first but it was searching forligerwif that led me to Julie Coleman’s wonderful thesaurus. It appears to be one of the earliest terms and seems to already betray the fear of independence, the belief that a woman should only exist married into a social role (Goodwife, Fishwife, Housewife. The Dutch still have kutwijf without archaism), that marriage wasn’t always just to a man - it’s not in our lists, but one 18th century term for sex workers was punchable nuns - that marriage, even sarcastically, is control: married to the cock.
As you say, sex-worker is their own term so preferred (the obvious association with class identity, too. I used that when I traduced Martial here). But you can’t let the language police go charging around poetry trying to baton problematics. To go with your mopsies, Grunts.
Neither of which, unless self-applied, are acceptable outside of the charmed field here. Which leads to the question, what is, if sex-worker is too bureaucratic for huren and hure too self-deprecating for sex-workers? (And would two men be expending so much thought on this but for the peculiar status accorded to the sexual act?).
There are women in my North Essex village from local families and some from Malawi who service those with greater economic power, doing wetwork, dealing with fluids, but also seeing their employers are comforted and satisfied. Carers.