6

"Your wife, sir, under the pretense of keeping a bawdy house, is a receiver of stolen goods" -Samuel Johnson

I cannot find an explanation anywhere on the internet. Is "stolen goods" a euphemism, and if so what for?

  • I think the joke is that if your wife is a fence, that is not nice, but being a madam is worse. The sentence setup makes it look like she is hiding the wrong, smaller, offense. – Yosef Baskin Jul 18 '17 at 19:12
  • 2
    @YosefBaskin - Not necessarily - there were times and places where being a madam was, if not respectable, at least neither illegal nor disreputable. – Jeff Zeitlin Jul 18 '17 at 19:14
  • 1
    Good to know, now I'm up to speed. – Yosef Baskin Jul 18 '17 at 19:15
  • 12
    @JeffZeitlin Such reading would miss the joke entirely. Normally, a fence operates under the pretense of a reputable business. The point here is that the woman is so stupid (or perhaps immoral) she keeps a brothel for this purpose. – michael.hor257k Jul 18 '17 at 20:03
10

This appears to be intended to be read in a straightforward manner. A 'bawdy house' is an outdated term for a brothel (house of prostitution); a 'receiver of stolen goods' is just that - someone who accepts as part of their business articles stolen from others, for storage, concealment, resale, et cetera. A receiver of stolen goods is also called, in current slang, a 'fence'.

The speaker in the quotation is accusing the wife of the listener of being a fence while pretending to be a madam ([female] operator of a brothel).

  • 1
    +1. Unfortunately, your answer lacks the sting of michael.hor257k's comment - which gets the point across succinctly. – Davo Jul 18 '17 at 20:11
  • @Davo - You've got a cultural assumption there that's not valid for all times and places - there were, in fact, times and places where operating a brothel was not considered _dis_reputable (though it was never considered entirely respectable). – Jeff Zeitlin Jul 19 '17 at 11:26
0

On the surface it says "Your wife, while trying to be a madame ended up as a fence."

The subtlety lies in the definitions. While pretending to run a bawdy brothel where her prostitutes attract clientele (men) her prostitutes actually steal men.

What kind of men can be stolen? Married men.

So she acts like a hooker and steals husbands. Rich.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.