Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dr. Woody's Fascinating Factoid: "Harlot"

Here's one I betcha you didn't know: The first times the word "harlot" was heard in English, it was in reference to men.

According to my trusty Barnhart's, the etymologically, "harlot" as an English word was first used in the Middle Ages to describe masterless men-at-arms.

The key word being "masterless."

Particularly: To violent, unprincipled, unscrupulous, ungovernable men who were essentially mercenaries. Men with blood on their hands, and no aversion to shedding more. Unemployed soldiers hanging around medieval cities waiting for the next war. They were never long in coming or in short supply. The history of the middle ages is one long, continuous, bloody conflict after another: Hundred-Years' wars, and 30 years' wars, and 20 Years' wars, and crusades and invasions and repulses, and conquests by the dozens. The dogs of war were abroad, and they looked like men, and they were called "harlots."

You have to understand: If I had been born in 1346, instead of 1946, and by the VERY best luck and fortune, had survived to 1412, almost ANYWHERE in Europe, I almost CERTAINLY would have had to survive an international conflict or a civil war. That would likely have meant having had to kill to preserve my own life. On the blog, I've copied a list of the wars which history notes having occurred at the comparable time: 1370-1412.  There were 18 of them in just those 40-odd years, spanning the continent from Russia to Kosovo. Plus, between 1347 and 1453, the 100 Year's war ravaged the whole continent between Sweeden and Italy.
(Here's the list: of just the wars which began in the span:
Nearly ALL men had gone to war, and had faced the necessity of killing. They were inured to it. They also had the most advanced weapons of the day, and they were expert with them. And they were fearless, having survived medieval battles, which were fearsome things; bloody butchery, mainly. The injured were normally dispatched without benefit of either clergy or of surgery.

And so, when they congregated in medieval cities like London, and Paris, and Verona, between immewdiate local conflicts or wars, they preyed on ordinary citizens, often committing robberies, even murders. Blooded, used to killing, civic authorities were often powerless against them.

It was only a little while later that that sense of menace, of danger, to the polis which those merciless, blooded, armed warriors posed began to be ascribed to the women who 'serviced' them; whereby their "easy virtue" was seen, by the clergy, and thje "civis" as the equivalent danger to the souls of their parishioners as the weapons of the warriors they serviced were to the unsuspecting populace.

And of course, nowadays, "harlot" is a term only assigned to women.

Next time, I'll tell you how algebra relates to screams of pain...See varlets and harlots at the beach, hippies...

1 comment:

  1. I could have sworn I commented here or on FB, but of course I love this, Dr. Woody! ;)