site banner
Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

I think I have read every top level post of the past four weeks, and I don’t recall someone’s key argument being that prostitutes should be called whores.

There is room to explore how language evolves, though, and who decides when an emotionally potent word becomes a slur. Not every potent word is a slur: the words “felon”, “rapist”, and “racist” have high emotional potency today, in that calling someone these things creates a serious negative emotional reaction in the listener. In the case of “rapist” this emotional residue is clearly acceptable, but what about felon? What about those who are blankly labeled “racist” without qualifier for making the most innocuous of mistakes, and who are then categorized with history’s worst people? Functionally speaking, is that any different than a slur? Who is deciding when a word is so strong or unjustly used that it’s a slur?

The word “whore” has had a stable definition for a thousand years, almost identical to the Old English “hore” and similar to the proto-Germanic “horon”. It’s used in the King James Bible. It is used by Shakespeare 59 times. It has long-standing use in English. When did it become a social violation to call a prostitute a whore, and is this justified by virtue of the connotation of her act? If someone has a strongly-held personal belief in the immorality of prostitution, and his own holy book calls those in the profession “whores”, is he justified in using the term? Are we justified in preventing him, any more than preventing him from using the words “sinner” and “damned”?

So it is an interesting question, and it cuts to the root of the potency of language and its control by vague and unspecified powers. I doubt any of us would use the word “whore” outside of private company, and I wouldn’t despite making the rational argument for its use. But… why? It’s not actually an easy thing to puzzle out. “Because of the social connotation” is just begging the question! How are we all accessing the same terms blacklist in our linguistic OS?

"Whore" is a preferred self-descriptor for Maggie McNeill, longtime escort, blogger, and activist. She has an idiosyncratic vocabulary in general. "Amateur" is her term for a woman who exchanges sex for anything other than an explicit sum (e.g. attention, status, love, financial support within marriage). Fascinating lady!

Today is a day to shamelessly celebrate our shameless history, not a day to cater to the precious fee-fees of amateurs by neutering our terminology so as not to offend their delicate sensibilities with a raw, unsanitized word like “whore”. ...This is a day for sexual outlaws, not well-behaved “workers”...

She intends to reclaim "whore." She almost certainly can't succeed.

"Whore" has been rude for a very long time, hence the proliferation of slang and euphemisms. This source says it's been uncomplimentary since at least the 13th century. But it probably became unsayable in the Victorian era and in our time for a reason.

In Nine Nasty Words, John McWhorter describes how profanity in English has followed this general course: blasphemy > bodily functions > identity slurs.

To medieval English speakers, the worst things you could say were all religious curses: "God damn you!" or "God blind me!", "God's blood/wounds/hooks/nails!", etc. Earthly matters like sex and excretion were no big deal. The common kestrel was known as a windfucker, and anybody would give you directions to Gropecunt Lane where the brothel stood. This shifted post-Enlightenment. As sanitation and privacy improved, bodily functions became matters of greater and greater delicacy. To the Victorians, nothing could be less polite than your gross meatbag and the gross stuff it does. By the 1940s, even the word "belly" was a bit vulgar. If we can't even call to mind digestion in polite company, we certainly can't allude to what "whores" do.

Then the late twentieth century! We've conquered so many pathogens, we hardly fear them anymore. Bodies are beautiful, natural things! Parents are encouraged to teach their children the proper names of body parts, and their functions are no reason to blush. These days, George Carlin's "seven words you can't say on television" (all related to excretion, body parts, and sex) are heard more and more freely. As I typed this, I overheard a teenage girl on a TV show call someone a "motherfucker."

We still have taboo words, only now they are all slurs against identity groups. We don't call sex workers "whores" because there is nothing currently ruder in English than insulting someone by category.

I definitely don't recall any whore post, so either it's in another thread I haven't bothered reading, or our friend is doing a bit of rhetorical exaggeration. I haven't stuck around the original SSC since the Motte originally split off, and there seems to be the same thing as what is going on with TheSchism there - now all the horrible witches have left on our broomsticks and the pure kind reasonable folk remain, the comment threads shrink to one-tenth of what they were because "I think niceness is nice!" "Me too, I agree!" doesn't make for the same kind of engagement.

or our friend is doing a bit of rhetorical exaggeration.

This is excessively charitable. Another poster pointed out the probable source of the comment. It was misrepresented.

This is another quokka thing. When someone says "you suck", they may not be acting in good faith. If you immediately respond to that saying "well, we do sort of suck and I can understand how you see why we suck", you're playing into his hands. But rationalists can't resist doing that.

This is also related to the style of troll--the post has impeccable grammar, and argues at length, qualities which we here tend to treat as an insightful post. But the content is terrible anyway.

This is also related to the style of troll

Fascinating. Tell me more, please.