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I guess people who speak American and Philippine English will unanimously agree that the word "slut" is a very offensive term referring to a promiscuous woman. However, Merriam-Webster and Oxford Advanced Learner's also attach another meaning to the word--a slovenly woman--and this is supposedly chiefly British.

slut: a lazy, careless, or slovenly woman : slattern (that slut of a housekeeper — Margaret Kennedy) --Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary

To speakers of British English: how often would one use the word "slut" in reference to a messy or untidy woman? Is this usage current or obsolescent?

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Have you read Wikipedia's entry for slut? –  Laure Feb 15 at 16:46
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Ha! It also used to mean "servant girl"-- "an admirable slut" who "pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others and deserves wages better" (February 1664). Goodness gracious! –  Louel Feb 15 at 16:50
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As a British English speaker, I believe it is only used as an offensive term for a promiscuous woman, unless you are a certain UKIP MP. –  sweeneyrod Feb 15 at 21:48
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@sweeneyrod I think you mean MEP... surely we don't have any UKIP in Westminster? –  PeterT Feb 15 at 22:17
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I thought this was one of the better ELU questions of late; I hoped it wouldn't be sidetracked into some silly debate. To me, there's no "right" or "wrong" way to use the word; the question is just an earnest inquiry about usage, which in this case seems to vary some based on geography and generation. On this side of the Atlantic, someone from my generation would instantly know that, "Fumble, you ignorant slut" would be meant only as a good-natured allusion to this cultural reference. –  J.R. Feb 16 at 17:29

7 Answers 7

Just an interesting alternative usage: we used it to mean "took from someone not quite by stealing, but more by asking without waiting for permission."

As an example: "John slutted one of my beers! He just walked up, said, 'Hey! Beer!' and took one!"

This may be entirely the dialect of my fraternity house when I was in college, though.

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I guess the Webster is wrong since it says: "First Known Use: 15th century". But actual etymology says it's existed since the 14th century, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

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The source you linked doesn't contradict Webster - it appears to agree. The Online Etymology Dictionary doesn't say this word has existed since the 14th century, it says circa 1400. The century from 1400-1500 is the 15th century, so the two sources are stating roughly the same thing (give or take a small number of decades, hence the 'circa'). The only pre-15c definition in your link, from the 14th century, describes an unclean man, so whilst the word might have existed, we don't have evidence for the current meaning being used that way yet. –  Jonathan Hobbs Feb 17 at 3:49
    
This doesn't even answer OP's Is this usage current or obsolescent?, let alone the matter of what sense would normally be intended or understood. –  FumbleFingers Feb 17 at 5:27

You can act or look like a slut in as much as your manner of dress, makeup, and behaviour suggests that you are on the lookout for a man, any man, because you want or need the confirmation that you are sexually attractive. In this case, a slut (technically speaking) is not, and never is a prostitute, but a promiscuous woman or one who at the very least gives that impression.

If a woman is slutty or sluttish, it could mean her appearance is slovenly, her makeup carelessly applied, her hair unkempt, but only because in the collective imaginary, people tend to associate cheap bright red lipstick, caked mascara, and holey fishnet tights (pantyhose in the US) with sluttish behaviour.

I don't think I have ever heard a woman being described as being a slut if she was generally untidy or unkempt. The word I would hear most often, in those instances, would be a slob.


EDIT

I'm going to play the British card now myself. I was born in London and lived there until I was a teenager, and I regularly go back to London for visits and short holidays. I was familiar with the term, slut, before moving to Italy circa 30 years ago, for me it's a well-established word whose meaning I have described above. The first definition may be found more often in books, which probably explains why the OED lists it as being first. However, Oxford Dictionaries, and The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary both state that slut is:

1a) a woman who has many casual sexual partners

and list it as their first definition.

I'm certain that British native speakers today are more familiar with that definition than with its more dated one; a woman whose general appearance is unclean. I looked for references to back my gut reaction, and I looked for how the word is used today in speech, not in works of literature. I thought of The Daily Mail, a British online newspaper, right-wing, an unreliable source if one is looking for objectivity in the news but an excellent one to witness how the English language is developing. The earliest reference to slut I found in a piece dated o9/o3/2001, entitled Born Romantic

British effort of the week is Born Romantic, a comedy about various young Londoners who frequent a salsa club. There's a well-spoken bitch (Olivia Williams), a mousy, morbid neurotic (Catherine McCormack in spectacles) and a rampant slut (Jane Horrocks).

They are pursued, in a way that's hard to distinguish from sexual harassment, by a charmless, married Scotsman (Craig Ferguson), a pathetic, incompetent mugger (Jimi Mistry) and a self-pitying, slobbish Scouser (David Morrissey).

I strongly doubt that The Daily Mail would use a term which their readers would largely be unaware of or might confuse it for meaning an unclean, slovenly woman. The comedy, by the way and its actors are/were all British too.

I include here the Daily Mail link showing the results for "slut" starting from the most relevant. Probably there are some pieces where women are criticized for their laziness and called sluts, probably AmEng has influenced as to how the younger British speakers interpret the word today; I don't doubt it for a second, but I'm convinced that nowadays British speakers are largely unaware of its original meaning - "c.1400, "a dirty, slovenly, or untidy woman"

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I haven't actually seen Born Romantic, but knowing Jane Horrocks I'd think she's more likely to play a "bold or impudent hussy" than a whore/slag. Appetite whetted, I'll look out for it. But certainly the first two newspaper items in your final link are using slut to mean woman who dresses provocatively, not woman who has indiscriminate sex. Essentially, I think you have not proven your case at all. –  FumbleFingers Feb 16 at 5:35
    
The first sentence says: You can act or look like a slut in as much as your manner of dress... –  Mari-Lou A Apr 3 at 9:46

I'm British - and definitely getting to be the wrong side of "middle-aged", which may have a bearing. But so far as I'm concerned, slut primarily means the first definition in OED...

- a woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance

Nor do I disagree with their second definition...

- a woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy, jade

That second definition could include anything from a woman who (provocatively or carelessly) shows more bare flesh than is proper, to one who indulges in casual sex more often than most.

But I personally would never extend it to mean "a women who trades sex for money" except where all the above attributes applied anyway, and were more relevant to my context.


But all such words have not only an inherent range of meanings in and of themselves; different people have widely differing value judgements concerning cleanliness, tidiness, sexuality, etc. Not to mention which there are the figurative and facetious usages. Many a male has been accused of whoring himself to [whatever the writer disapproves of].

Use of sexually-loaded terms is also significantly influenced by "publicly-acknowledged morality", as portrayed in the media, and that can vary widely by country. I've recently watched several American "Coming-of-age / High school/college" movies. It took me a while to realise that in that context, blow-jobs are usually seen as "normal, heavy petting", whereas penetrative sex is usually classed as "whoring" regardless of whether anyone actually paid for it. That's Hollywood for you. British movies don't often feature oral sex - but if they do, it's more like "getting to fourth base" (where third base is intercourse).


EDIT: I prefaced this answer by pointing out that it's only a British perspective (which is what OP asked for anyway). But my gut feeling was that younger Brits don't even use slut - they use slag for "promiscuous female or male", and slob for "untidy/dirty/lazy person" (again, unisex).

Google NGrams appears to support my feeling. Check this chart to see how slut has steadily risen in the AmE corpus in recent decades (switch to the BrE corpus and you'll see a corresponding fall). And check this chart to see how she's a slag has gained currency in the BrE corpus (switch to the AmE corpus to see that Americans simply don't use that word often enough to chart usage at all).

It may therefore be true that on the relatively few occasions when younger Brits do come across slut in their native land, they might tend to ascribe it the modern American sense - simply because that's the one they're most likely to have encountered through international media, movies, etc.

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@Louel: I can't answer for Americans and Philippinos. I would say the word is becoming outdated in the UK. My children and their contemporaries might use slag for a slovenly person (often with the implication of loose morals as well as dirty/untidy), but I don't think they use slut at all (except when facetiously echoing their parents' usage). If you're sure people in your area use it to mean whore, you can reasonably do the same there. Just don't expect that sense to be the first thing that comes to mind if you're speaking to a Brit. –  FumbleFingers Feb 15 at 17:28
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Probably a generational thing. Godfrey Bloom got into trouble for this recently. He claimed he meant meaning 1. Not sure how many people believed him or were even aware of this meaning. –  Martin Smith Feb 15 at 20:35
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@Martin: The Bloom thing is just politics. Given the exact context, anyone who seriously thinks he actually intended the "loose sexual morals" sense would have to be soft in the head. After all, he did use the word in the same breath as saying he wanted to "deal with women's issues because I just don't think they clean behind the fridge enough". As to the "generational" thing - as I said earlier, all the under-30s I know tend to say slag, not slut. So maybe if they do hear it, they pick up of the US sense (which isn't even mentioned in current OED). –  FumbleFingers Feb 15 at 20:54
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I have heard many younger Brits (teenagers and twenty-odds) use slut, though never in the slovenly sense. ‘Someone who has loose sexual morals’ is not what it commonly means, though: ‘someone who has many sexual partners’ is much closer. It is not always (in fact, less and less) a derogatory term—and it refers equally to male and female specimens. Possibly even more commonly to guys, since having multiple sexual partners is still somewhat stigmatised for girls –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 15 at 22:46
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@Janus: I recall discussing "unisex" slag with my 23-year-old son a couple of years ago when he said a (male) friend of his was a bit of a slag. I don't recall the word slut coming up then (or anywhen else, come to that) with the "younger generation". But I'm pretty sure my 83-years old mother once (facetiously) said something like "You're a slob and she's a slut, so you should both be very comfortable together" about me and my then "partner". She just meant we're not very "houseproud", obviously - nothing about sexual morals or behaviour. –  FumbleFingers Feb 16 at 1:05

This may not be an answer to your question, but some interesting trivia.

I'm a German native speaker and we have the word "Schlampe", which accurately translates to slut. The corresponding adjective to "Schlampe" is "schlampig". Interestingly enough, "schlampig" has two different meanings, that correlate with your question:

  • schlampig as in sluttish.
  • schlampig as in slovenly, messy, filthy.

In German these two meanings are still implied today. You have to guess by the context, which meaning is the correct. Nevertheless, "Schlampe" and "schlampig" is always offensive. This makes it plausible, that the double-meaning of "slut" dates back even further than previously thought of.

In medieval and pre-medieval times "sluts" were most likely the lowest class of the society. They were linked to filth and diseases. Therefore the bonding of the two meanings seems logical.

The theory of a Germanic origin is supported by this Etymology Dictionary.

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I never noticed that "schlampig" ("slutty" auf English) is so close to the extremely vulgar "slam pig". –  quadruplebucky Feb 17 at 1:42
    
I never noticed that "slam pig" is a thing. :D –  silvinci Feb 18 at 13:58

I can remember once hearing someone who would now being in her early 30s using the word in this sense (about 10 years ago, so she would then have been in her early 20s). Her use was facetious, but when I asked her about it (because I am after all the sort of person who is interested in words), and she said that she had grown up thinking of the word primarily in the original "unkempt, slovenly" sense, but considered herself unusual in this; that it was more a matter of her ideolect based on family use than a common opinion.

More generally, I would say that among younger English-speakers in Britain and Ireland, not only would the original sense not be the primary one, but some may not even be aware of it at all. I've certainly heard it used, but generally with a tone that suggested people considered it obsolete, and often deliberately joking on the primary meaning being related to sex.

Of course, the reason the word has both senses, is from the two traits being conflated; assuming that a woman who does not keep a tidy house or is untidy in her personal appearance would have "loose sexual morals", which is an opinion less likely to be held, in a whole variety of ways. (Personally, whenever I've engaged in "loose sexual morals" with a woman, they've tended to get dressed up a bit first, YMMV).

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Out of interest, which area of the UK was this woman from? –  Pharap Feb 16 at 1:17
    
@Pharap she wasn't, she was from Ireland. Irish English tends to be close to British English but with a few syntactical differences (not relevant here), a few additions (not relevant here) and a few retentions that are also found in some, but not all, of the UK (relevant here, as my only ever hearing one such use adds to my conclusion that it's now a rarity). –  Jon Hanna Feb 16 at 13:20

It must be more than obsolescent in that context. It would be obsolete. I have not heard it used in the UK.

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You haven't specified "age" on your profile, but I wouldn't be surprised to find it's under 30. I've just added what I see as supporting evidence in my own answer for my sense that younger Brits don't use the word so much anyway (making the whole question somewhat academic, if not moot! :) –  FumbleFingers Feb 15 at 21:26

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