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Cider-Wenches and High Prized Pin-Boxes: Bawdy Terminology in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century England
Minna Nevala and Marianna Hintikka
134-152 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


This article deals with the social roles ascribed to prostitutes and the language used of them in England during the period between 1630 and 1760. The material comes from Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth Century Collection Online (ECCO). Using 13 pamphlets dealing with the subject of prostitution, the authors attempt to chart some diachronic developments within the framework of contemporary social discourse and the conceptual and lexical fields concerning women who, to varying degrees of involvement, sold their bodies to men to survive. The study suggests that there is an gradual overall development from the 17th century to the 18th in general attitudes towards prostitutes and prostitution, a development which probably ultimately culminated in 19th-century Victorian social pathos. While prostitutes were never regarded highly, they seem, nevertheless, to have improved their ranking to some extent in the eyes of good society from the 18th century onward. In the early EEBO pamphlets, the individual prostitutes are frequently brutally abused and demonised, and the mocking pamphlets in which the bawd or whore is spoken of in conspicuously kind and respectable terms can be seen to drive the point home with particular cruelty. The later pamphlets, on the other hand, tend to treat prostitutes with pity rather than hatred. The women are seen as victims of their fate and it is the institution of prostitution that is called into question. In the article, the authors trace some of the linguistic devices used for emotive effect to create the prostitute's social profile from the perspectives of historical sociopragmatics and prototype semantics.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 2008 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis (HEL-LEX 2)
edited by R. W. McConchie, Alpo Honkapohja, and Jukka Tyrkkö
Table of contents
Printed edition: $220.00