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"Hooker", "whore", and "prostitute" all mean whore; what are the differences between them?

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5  
You forgot "slut"... :D –  user730 Dec 12 '10 at 13:25
10  
Colloquially, "slut" does not imply that money or other payment changed hands, where as "hooker," "whore" and "prostitute" do. –  Bridget Baker Jan 17 '11 at 23:35
    
Whoever is cheapest! –  awm Feb 13 '11 at 10:55
    
He missed out "harlot" –  Thursagen May 24 '11 at 7:09
    
Other terms are "call girl" and "working girl". –  Gary van der Merwe Jun 24 '14 at 9:22

5 Answers 5

up vote 36 down vote accepted

They all can mean women who sleep with men for money. Prostitute is the most technical term. Hooker seems most commonly used in the United States, while in Britain this term is reserved for a position in rugby. Whore sounds much more violent to me. If one were seeking a woman to pay to sleep with him, he probably wouldn't say "I'm looking for a whore tonight," but use hooker or prostitute.

Calling someone a whore can be used to insult them, implying they sleep with many people (though for men the term would be man-whore). E.g., "She is such a whore." Going back to a previous example, "I'm looking for a whore tonight" implies more to me that he is looking for someone who is easy to sleep with, not for a prostitute.

Not to say you can't use the others in an insult. From "Baby Got Back," by Sir Mix-A-Lot, we also have the opening dialogue:

They only talk to her, because, she looks like a total prostitute, 'kay?

But in this case the lady quoted is just saying that she looks like a prostitute, not that she is one, necessarily. If she said "She is such a prostitute," that would mean that is her profession, not that she sleeps with a lot of men for free.

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6  
+1, mainly for quoting from "Baby Got Back" :-) –  Steve Melnikoff Dec 7 '10 at 18:15
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I wouldn't think "hooker" is most commonly used on the right-hand side of the pond, as in British English it means the man in the middle of the front row on the rugby pitch. –  Brian Hooper Dec 7 '10 at 18:54
    
Definitely agree with Brian. Whilst the term is understood in British English, the primary meaning is a rugby position. Usually occupied by the shortest stocky person on the team, a similar role to the centre in a faceoff in Ice Hockey. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugby_union_positions#2._Hooker –  Orbling Dec 7 '10 at 20:36
    
thanks for the commments! I've updated the answer. learn new things every day. what is most commonly used in Britain? –  Claudiu Dec 7 '10 at 21:02
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without claiming any special expertise, I'd suggest the commonest is probably "tart". –  Brian Hooper Dec 8 '10 at 7:03

Claudiu pretty much covered it, but there's one thing more to discuss. "Whore" has an unsavory meaning, to be sure, but it's lately been used in a milder sense, to describe someone who will do just about anything to get something he or she wants. In this case it is coupled with another noun. Examples:

  • attention whore: Someone who will do anything to get attention
  • loot whore: in MMORPG games, someone who will do anything to get gear
  • rep whore: on StackExchange sites, someone who will do anything to gain reputation

This is still a derogatory term, but it can also be used among friends in a somewhat affectionate sense. But the meaning can vary depending on how it is said: "Jill is such an attention whore" can mean you think she's obnoxious or funny, depending on how much you like Jill.

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If you're after the politically correct term, it's "Sex worker".

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The reason "hooker" is in common use in America (and not elsewhere), is because it is named after a U.S. Civil War general, Joseph Hooker (who let such women follow his troops around, contributing to lax discipline that led to defeat in battle).

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General Hooker's name reinforced the existing word. It actually derived from Hoek van Holland (the Hook of Holland), a Dutch seaport, famed as a venue for the pursuit of that vocation. –  Malvolio Jul 11 '11 at 16:13
    
@malvolio: Fair enough. I'm just giving the American interpretation. So General Hooker was a "reinforcement" eh? In the war, he was best in that role (sometimes tipped the balance). He always lost as a "front line" man. –  Tom Au Jul 11 '11 at 17:44

Interesting discussion with excellent answers. There is at least one more dimension: the "Latinization" of English.

Online Etymological Dictionary (emphasis modified)

whore (n.)

1530s spelling alteration (see wh-) of Middle English hore, from Old English hore "prostitute, harlot," from Proto-Germanic *horaz (fem. *horon-) "one who desires" (cognates: Old Norse hora "adulteress," Danish hore, Swedish hora, Dutch hoer, Old High German huora "whore;" in Gothic only in the masc. hors "adulterer, fornicator," also as a verb, horinon "commit adultery"), from PIE *ka- "to like, desire," a base that has produced words in other languages for "lover" (cognates: Latin carus "dear;" Old Irish cara "friend;" Old Persian kama "desire;" Sanskrit Kama, name of the Hindu god of love, kamah "love, desire," the first element in Kama Sutra).

Compare with

prostitute (v.)

1520s, "to offer to indiscriminate sexual intercourse (usually in exchange for money)," from Latin prostitutus, past participle of prostituere "to expose to prostitution, expose publicly," from pro- "before" (see pro-) + statuere "cause to stand, establish," from PIE root *sta- "to stand."

The development of the two words are unusually dissimilar considering the similarities of their modern English meanings.

English is technically a Germanic language, but modern English contains many more words from Latin and Romance languages than from Germanic or Anglo-Saxon sources. One pie chart on Wikipedia claims that 58% of the English lexicon is Latin or Romance and only 26% is Germanic.

Many things have contributed to Latin's strong influence in modern English. Some of the best analysis of Latin's influence comes from writers who are fiercely opposed to the Latinization.

When looking at the modern usage of "whore" and "prostitute", the general rule that most people feel that Latin words are more formal, proper, or acceptable in "polite society." The other answers support this idea: whore is much more insulting than prostitute.

The full etymological entries are packed with interesting facts about both words, so if you find this interesting, I recommend clicking the above links.

Conclusion: both words exist in English because of the Latinization of English and people's need for a word that is not so crude that it is unacceptable in some situations.

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protected by RegDwigнt May 24 '11 at 9:32

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