Perhaps nothing has provided the English language with more fanciful and delicious synonyms than sexual vice. Every year it seems that there is a new addition to the long list of words used to describe things of a sexual nature. One of the beauties of inflection is that practically any phrase can be given a wanton connotation. From “I’d like to rotate her tires” to “I’d like to check out his broadband access” there is really almost nothing that can’t be made to sound dirty. Have you ever wondered where some of the most long-lasting sexual terms came from?
As hard as it may be to believe, I can attest to the fact that pimping is considered a hot job prospect even for skinny white dorks in middle school. The very first known recorded instance of the use of the word pimp occurred in Samuel Pepys’ notorious diary; a well-regarded literary work that would make even most gangsta rappers blush. It is believe that the word was transformed from its French root pimpant, which means seductive, or the Latin word pipare which means to chirp like a bird. Considering the large feathers to be found placed into the hats of those extravagant pimps featured nightly on 70’s cop shows, this makes sense.
This actually stems from an Old English term for going to ruin or deterioration, and boy that does it, huh. It was already being applied to streetwalkers in England by the 1400’s and the addition of the word house to brothel a century later led to its use to describe the domicile within which a collection of prostitutes plied their trade.
Like many words of a sexual nature, bordello first came to attention via the dramatic arts; the first recording of the word appears in Ben Jonson’s played Every Man in His Humour. Jonson’s comedy originally used Italian names in the play and so bordello, which was a French/Italian corruption for a word meaning at first merely a small house and then later a small house in which women of easy virtue could be found, entered into the English lexicon.
You may think the word crib used to specifically designate a place for human beings to live is relatively recent. You would be wrong. Crib was a word used to describe a brothel and saloon combination-like Miss Kitty’s on Gunsmoke-as far back as the 1840’s. By the late 1800’s crib was used mainly to describe a small room in which sex was exchanged for money. New Orleans took it to the limit: a crib in the Big Easy was the American precursor to the Red Light District Amsterdam. New Orleans prostitutes would actually sit in a small room behind a window and let it be known that she wasn’t advertising crawfish gumbo.
Also known as a Fancy Lady, today’s image of the Madam has been updated to include ugly street trash like Heidi Fleiss and ugly uppity Washington matrons whose little black books can-and should-be used to extort more than enough members of Congress to override any veto of President Bush and brings home troops starting this afternoon. Unfortunately, the Democrats are too afraid to play dirty and so the multiple Washington Madams who hold the key to ending the war are allowed to remain in business unmolested. The classic Madam is viewed as an older woman of some breeding and gentility; this is because the word Madam only entered into the lexicon of sexual terms during the Civil War. It is said that the word Madam itself was used to describe these women because Confederate soldiers were too gallant to describe them in more earthy terms. Yeah…well…okay.
A word that eventually got applied to any pretty girl walking by, its origins trace back to the whistle that a streetwalker would use to get man’s attention. (Nice girls didn’t whistle in public back then.)
Entering into common usage around the turn of the last century, a floozy began as a slattern; think trailer trash that hangs around the local cruddy bar today. Interestingly-not ironically, mind you-even though a floozy was considered cheap and easy, the word is thought to have derived from a word popular in the 1880’s that meant a woman who dressed in an extravagant and showy silk dress.
The perfect example of how shifting morality is always used to tailor policy. This is the precursor today’s longtime companion, which is shorthand for a homosexual relationship. Constant companion was the tricky way that newspaper reporters used to get around describing a woman as the unmarried lover of a man. Constant companions used to be denied many of the same rights that longtime companions are denied today.