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Women who aren't interested in much more than sex are referred to as "slappers" in British English.

British informal, derogatory a promiscuous or vulgar woman.

Why is this? I can't find any solid etymology information.

  • Is that Dolly Parton?! Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 15:12
  • Yeah, "Thanks for the mammaries." Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 18:03
  • Yes, it's Dolly Partoon!
    – user3847
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 6:31

2 Answers 2


OED has this as a draft addition from 2002 (not everything is reproduced here):

Brit. slang (derogatory). A promiscuous woman. Freq. in old slapper.
See quot. 1990 for a postulated connection with Yiddish schlepper ‘unkempt, scruffy person; gossipy, dowdy woman’; however there is some gap in sense. Cf. also quot. 18541 at sense 1.

1990 T. Thorne Bloomsbury Dict. Contemp. Slang 468/1 Slapper in British, a prostitute or slut. This working class term from East London and Essex is probably a corruption of shlepper or schlepper, a word of Yiddish origin, one of whose meanings is a slovenly or immoral woman.

The 1854 quotes in sense 1 are:

1. dial. A large thing or object; a big, strapping, or overgrown person.

1854 A. E. Baker Gloss. Northamptonshire Words, Slapper,..applied to persons and things, but most frequently to over-grown females.
1854 A. E. Baker Gloss. Northamptonshire Words, ‘She's a slapper.’

Both etymologies are possible. I guess that “over-grown females” might slap parts of the anatomy against other parts more than smaller women.

From there, it’s but a small step to an assumption of promiscuity and a corresponding shift in meaning. Unfortunately, slang is anything but politically correct.

  • 3
    Actually the Yiddish to "schlep" might be translated as to "work" (to carry actually, but in a "work" sense). So, a "working" girl? Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 15:46
  • 1
    @ElliottFrisch Indeed. Does German or Yiddish have "working girl" as a euphemism for "prostitute"?
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 15:49
  • Yes. Most (if not all) Yiddish words you know are euphemisms. Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 15:53

There are several possible explanations for the British slang term slapper, which some suggest is the equivalent of the American term, trampa woman who has sex with many different men.

1) It could derive from the theatrical expression:

to slap on the greasepaint

The Theatre Dictionary: British and American Terms in Drama, Opera, and Ballet by Wilfred Granville, 1970, says

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There is evidence to suggest that the noun slap meaning theatrical make-up, existed pre 1860, but was already losing favour in the 19th century.

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Well, that prediction proved to be untrue as shown by ODC

Slap 2 [mass noun] informal make-up, especially when applied thickly or carelessly: I put a bit of slap on my face and we were ready to go

Now, anyone who is British-born will be familiar with the notion that slappers are supposedly ill-famed for troweling on their make-up, or war paint if you prefer. Hence, a promiscuous woman is identifiable as someone who slaps on her make-up heavily.

2) The idiomatic expression "a bit of slap and tickle" meaning amorous frolicking, with kissing, petting etc. is said to have existed since 1910 in the Shorter Slang Dictionary by Paul Beale, and Eric Partridge.

The word slap mimics the sound of flesh on flesh, or the sound of heavy breasts slapping together. It could also suggest that a slapper is a woman who is up for some slap and tickle. In other words a willing sexual partner.

3) Finally, in Curious English Words and Phrases: The Truth behind the expressions we use its author, Max Cryer, suggests that slapper could stem from the Irish sliobaire meaning dirty. In trying to find a direct translation of sliobaire I was largely unsuccessful, although I did find this reference, the Dictionarium scoto-celticum:

Slìobadh, -aidh, s. m. et pres. part. v. Sliob. 1.
Stroking, act of stroking, or rubbing gently with the hand : palpandi demulcendi actus. C. S. 2. Licking, act of licking : lanibendi actus. C. S. 3. Polishing, act of polishing : laevigandi actus. C. S.
Sliobair, -e, -ean, s. m. A clumsy, or awkward fel- low : inconditus, vel inhabilis quis. C. S.

Not being Irish I am unable to ascertain whether these words have any phonetic similarities with "slap" or "slapper".

  • Downvoter. What's wrong with explaining why you disagree. I won't bite your head, break down in tears, sulk, or anything.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 17:34
  • 1
    I'm Irish, and the word 'sliobaire' is pronounced as 'sluh-ber-eh', with the emphasis on the 'sluh'- the 'eh' is hardly stressed at all so it sounds like an afterthought. Sounds like how an English person might say 'slobberer', so quite similar-sounding to 'slapper'!
    – user90651
    Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 18:04
  • 1
    It should be noted that slìobadh and sliobair are not Irish Gaelic, but Scottish Gaelic. They are quite easily transferred to their Irish counterparts, though, which are slíobadh and sliobaire. Slíob as a verb means rub, scratch, scrape, polish, smooth, file, grind, lick, pet, pat, extract, or take away and is not related to sliobaire (the accent indicates a long vowel, so the two sound quite different, too). Sliobaire (or slibire in some dialects), which is based on the noun sliobar meaning “anything that hangs loose or untidy, e.g., a cow’s udder”. [cont’d -->] Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 18:51
  • 1
    [--> cont’d] Sli(o)b(a)ire is a personified noun meaning basically ‘a thingy that hangs sloppily downwards’. It mostly refers to pieces of wood (pliant, dangling rods or pendants, like willow branches) or (animal) body parts like teats and dugs (or “a rope of slime from a cow denoting she is in calf”)—but it can also refer to a person, usually a man, who is tall, gaunt, gangling, and gives the appearance of not having much energy or wit. Derived from that is a verb, sli(o)b(a)ireáil ‘hang about, dawdle’ and a sli(o)b(a)ireálaí is a hangabout or a dawdler. In Standard Irish [cont’d -->] Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 18:56
  • 1
    [--> cont’d] sli(o)b(a)ire does not have the meaning ‘dirty’, and it would be an odd meaning, considering its derivation; so I would say that the source that claims this etymology is ill-researched and affords little credence on the point. [All definitions taken from Foclóir Gaeḋilge agus Béarla by Pádraig Ó Duinnín from 1927; an excellent work unfortunately no longer available online, it seems. See also slibire in Foclóir Gaeilge–Béarla (Ó Dónaill) online.] Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 18:58

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