"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
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    @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
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    Good to know, now I'm up to speed. – Yosef Baskin Jul 18 '17 at 19:15
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    @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

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 A 'bawdy house' is an outdated term for a brothel (house of prostitution); a 'receiver of stolen goods' is just that - someone who accepts as part of their business articles stolen from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).

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    +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

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.

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