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July 24 , 2003

Slang of the Week: hooker (noun)

Rita thought her dress was conservative, but at the bar, a man mistook her for a hooker.

Celebrity quote:
“I wouldn’t say that she’s a full-on hooker with a heart, but she’s been known, I think, to weasel cash out of men for a good time.”
-Alias star Jennifer Garner talking about her role in Catch Me If You Can

Back in high school, I heard a story about this word’s origins dating from the early 1860s. During the US Civil war, General Hooker’s troops were stationed in Washington and were apparently so fond of easy women that the red light district became known as Hooker’s Division. While this is true, the word hooker was used before the Civil War, so the title was probably intended as a joke with a double meaning at the time.

In competition for the claim of originating this expression is New York, which once had a low-life area known as Corlear’s Hook. The Hook, as it was also called, was both home to many prostitutes and a frequent destination of sailors. However, earlier appearances of the word suggest the real origins are more likely related to the verb to hook, since prostitutes hook or catch their customers. Sadly, this is also far less interesting.

Garner’s “hooker with a heart” is short for the “hooker with a heart of gold”, a character popularized by late nineteenth century author Bret Harte, whose stories sentimentally depicted the American West. The stereotype has since been played in movies by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Rebecca De Mornay in Risky Business and Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places, among many others.

What’s new at Slang City?
"Honey you lookin' good, and mo' gooder than a plate of neck bones..." In MUSIC, we translate Sick of Being Lonely, by Field Mob.