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Latin and late Latin *puta 'concubine, sexual sleeping partner' and old French pute.

OLD French pute, putain 'whore' appears for the first time in texts of the early 12th century, in the Latin text of Orderic Vitalis' Historia Ecclesiastica (1123-41), who uses the Latinised form of Old Norman putein in a record of a siege by Henry I, king of England, duke of Normandy, in the year 1119, (XII.22) rex aggregauit, et in loco qui Vetus Rotomagus dicitur castrum condere cepit, quod Mata putenam id est deuincens meretricem pro despectu Haduisoe comitissoe nuncupauit 'the king marshalled (his army), and in the place called Old Rouen began to build a siege-castle, naming it Mata-putena "vanquished-whore," that is to say meretrix defeating, out of disdain for the countess Hawise' (Chibnall VI.278-80); and a little later in Philippe de Taun's Bestiaire (1121-35), in the lines, (832-34) kar l'eve signefie ivrece, e le buissun putain 'for the water signifies drunkenness, and the bush a whore', and, (836-37) Sathan, ki ume prent quant pute l'at lie 'Satan, who takes a man when he has joined with a whore' (Walberg). Old Provencal puta, putan and putana find their way into print at a slightly later date, first occurring in the songs of the troubadour poet Marcabru in about 1137 (Gaunt etal). Some of the other Romance forms don't begin to appear in texts until the 13th century: Old Spanish puta (early13thC), Old Italian putta, puitana, put(t)ana (early13thC), and Old Castilian putanna (mid13thC). All of these forms are derived from Gallo-Latin pota, *puta (6thCAD) 'prostitute', preserved in a single quotation from Gregorius of Tours' Vitae patrum (ADca.592), concerning the life of the woman Monegundis of Chartres, to whom, (XIX.3) Mulier quaedam filiam suam exhibuit uulneribus plenam, et, ut quidam uocant, potae haec causa genuerat 'A certain woman displayed her daughter, who was covered in ulcers, and, as certain men declare, was the reason behind her becoming a prostitute (pota)' (Krusch 288). This Gallo-Latin word derives from Latin putus, puta (3/2ndCBC) 'young, little boy or girl', (1) a very rare word found only in its diminutive form, in the obscure phrase salaputium, and in a late Latin-Greek glossary attributed to Philoxenus, preserved in a 9th century manuscript, which records the original root form of the word: (II.256.99) puti mikroiv 'puti = (plural) small, little', and (II.256.101) putus mikro;[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] 'putus = small, little (of self)' (Lindsay etal). The word is related to Italic *puclo- 'son, boy', preserved in inscriptions, Oscan puklum (3rdCBC) '= filium, puerum' (Buck 243-46), and Pelignian puclois (c.3rdCBC) '= filiis, pueris' (Bottiglioni 334); both related to Ancient Sanskrit putra- 'a son', and from which also derives the equally rare Latin pusus, pusa (2ndCBC) 'young, little boy or girl', and pusio (1stCBC) 'little boy'. Our first record of the word comes from Plautus' play Asinaria (c.207BC), where the diminutive form putillus 'very little, young boy' is used as a pet love-name, (694) putillum, and in Varro's Saturae Menippeae (c.80-c.67BC), where (fr.568) putillos refers to 'a young bird' (= Latin pullus 'a young animal').

How did the archaic Latin word putus 'small; a young boy; a young animal', in its feminine form puta come to mean 'prostitute'?

In the classical Latin period there are several terms, technical and abusive, for female and male prostitutes. The technical terms for a female prostitute were prostibulum, prostibula, prostituta 'she who exposes or offers herself publicly, prostitute', from the verb prosto 'to stand in a public place', and meretrix, 'working girl, prostitute', from the verb mereo 'to earn', and the slang terms lupa 'she-wolf; whore', and scortum 'skin, hide; whore', which was also later used as a term for a male prostitute. Unlike the feminine forms all terminology in Latin for a male prostitute was one sided, limited to classifying homosexual prostitutes only--this was a basic idiom of Latin and also Greek--though clearly there were male prostitutes who sold themselves to women, as attested by the Pompeian prostitutes Glyco and Maritimus, whose advertisements were preserved on the walls of their cellae: (CIL.IV.3999) Glyco cunnum lingit a(ssibus) II 'Glyco licks cunt for 2 asses', and (CIL.IV.8939, 8940) Maritimus cunnu(m) linget a(ssibus) IIII. Virgines ammittit 'Maritimus licks cunt for 4 asses. Virgins welcome'. The technical terms for a male prostitute were puer meritorius 'working boy, boy for hire', pathicus and catamitus 'homosexual pathic, young male prostitute', and the slang terms cinaedus 'adult homosexual prostitute; poofter' and spintria 'sphincter, anus; pathicus'. From this large body of terminology only one word survived in Old French, meretrix, which became the rare, and variously spelt, meretris, meretriz, meautris, mealtris, mautris, maintris, matrix, while the remaining terms were all subsumed under the two terms pute, putain and sodomite, although this later term had exchanged the meaning prostitute for that of heretic. The common term cinaedus also persisted into Gallo-Latin and Frankish for a short while beyond the Late Latin period until it was replaced by sodomita, introduced into Francia from the Celtic christian church at about the 6th century. Gallo-Latin cinidus, cinitus (= cinaedus) and Frankish quintuc, quinte (a contraction of ci-ni-t-us to qui-n(i)-t-uc, quin( i)-t-e) occurs (along with meretrix) in the Frankish laws of the Pactus legis Salicae (AD507-11), (.1) Si quis alterum cinitum uocauerit, malb. quintuc 'Whoever has called another a homosexual, Malberg quintuc', and in its various recensions upto AD798 (Eckhardt).

There is no evidence of puta being used of a prostitute in classical Latin prior to its sudden existence in Gregorius of Tours, though there is some evidence that putus was used in this respect, and its use in this way may have influenced the feminine form.

In 54BC the orator and poet Calvus served as prosecutor against the tribune Vatinius, who was successfully defended by the orator Cicero, but whose oratorical arguments on the day were remembered as being eloquent and fierce. Calvus' friend and fellow poet Catullus records that at this trial someone in the audience, in response to this, disparagingly exclaimed, (LIII.5) 'Di magni, salaputium disertum!' "Great gods, the midget's eloquent!," which was a slight against his height--Calvus was known from ancient sources as being a very short man: Ovidius in his Tristia (AD8-12) refers to him as, (II.431) exigui 'of meagre height', and Seneca's Controuersiae (ADc.37-41) states that, (VII.4) erat enim paruolus statura 'he was indeed very small of stature'. This phrase apparently became colloquial and appears two centuries later as a proper name, or nickname, occurring in an inscription from Karthago, dated AD183-84, (CIL.VIII.10570.iii.29) C. Iulio [Pel]ope Salaputi(o) 'Caius Julius Pelops Salaputium'. The etymology of the appellative salaputium remains obscure but it most likely derives from the combination salax + putium (= putus) 'lecherous little boy'. In its sexual context this term would imply an ironic duality of passive versus aggressive: short like a boy (a passive sexual partner, pathicus, catamitus), yet aggressive like a grown man, where disertus = salax. In a graffito from Pompeii there is a similar sexual connection made between salax + filius, (CIL.IV.5213) filius salax, qu(o)d tu mulierorum difutuisti 'oversexed son, how many women have you fucked over'. Also of note is another graffito from Pompeii scratched into the bedroom wall of a hostel by the soldier C. Valerius Venustus, who refers to himself as, (CIL.IV.2145.2) fututulor maximum 'biggest little fucker'. Another case of sexual distinction occurs in the related noun pusio 'little boy', in the satires of Juvenalis, Satura VI (c.AD97-103). In a diatribe against marriage he suggests to the would be groom that, (34) melius, quod tecum pusio dormit? 'Is it not better that a pusio sleeps with you?'--instead of the intended bride. Here pusio is used in the context of concubinus 'a boy concubine', or glaber 'a slave who performed the role of pathicus'; as in Catullus' wedding song, where he breaks the bad news to the husband to be, that (LXI.134-6) diceris male te a tuis unguentate glabris marite abstinere 'you are unfortunately being told, o perfumed bridegroom, you must give up your glabri, abstain'.

From the period of Old Latin to the Silver Latin period the term putus was used in the sexual sense of 'a pet love-name', and was equated (in context) with salax, pathicus and concubinus. It is likely that the feminine puta absorbed at least two of these ancillary meanings, salax and concubina. The developmental stages of Old French pute would therefore read as: Old Latin puta 'young girl', Latin and Late Latin *puta 'concubine, sexual sleeping partner', Gallo-Latin pota, *puta 'prostitute', and Old French pute 'whore'.

The transformation of an originally non sexual word to concubine, to prostitute, to whore is a metamorphosis also shared by Old French jael 'harlot, whore', and Mediaeval Latin focaria 'a priest's wife, concubine or mistress'.

The rare slang term jael first appears in Old Provencal gazal, in a song of the troubadour poet Marcabru (fl.c.1136-50), in the suffix form, (II.23) guazalhan 'whoremonger' (Gaunt etal 48, 51), and in the poetry of the Monge de Montaudon (fl.1180-1215), in the phrase, (XIX.65) veilla gazals 'old whore' (Philippson 53). In Old French it first occurs in Guace le Normant's De seint Nicholas (c.1150), (94) galice (= jaelise) 'prostitution, whoredom' (Crawford 74), and in De Richeut (ca.1170), (1031) Herselot ... la jael (MS lael) 'Herselot the harlot' (Vernay 111), and a little later in Perrot de Saint Cloot's, Romanz de Renart (ca.1175-77), (Va.829-30) 'ne feme cumune ne el, neis se c'estoit un(e) jael' "she was not a common woman, nor was she a harlot" (Martin 183). The etymology of the word is Germanic and dates back to Gothic gadaila (4thCAD) 'a partaker; partner', and the probable *gadailo 'female partaker, companion', occurring only in masculine form in Wulfila's Gothic translation of the christian new testament AD369-83, such as Corinthians I, (IX.23) ei gadaila is vairthau 'that I might be partaker thereof with you'. This meaning was retained in OHG kiteilo, giteilo (8thCAD) 'comrade, partner', and giteila 'female companion, partner', where it often glosses the Latin words particeps 'partaking; a partner' and consors 'partaking in common with; consort'. In Frankish this word survives as Franco-Latin gadalis (start9thC) 'prostitute or whore'. It occurs only once in a cartulary by Charlemagne for the region of the Agri Decumates within the Upper Rhine and Danube, Capitulare de disciplina palatii Aquensis (a. AD 809), (3) de gadalibus et meretricibus uolumus, ut apud quemcumque inuentae fuerint, ab eis portentur usque ad mercatum, ubi ipsae flagellandae sunt 'with regards to the gadales and prostitutes we desire--howsoever they may be discovered--that they be carried all the way to the market-places where their bodies shall be whipped' (Pertz 158). At some earlier stage Frankish *gadail or *gadal must have come to mean 'female sleeping partner; concubine', before being used in its more colloquial sense of 'prostitute'.

In the period between Silver Latin and the beginning of the Late Latin period there occurs the term focaria (2/3rdCAD) 'a kitchen maid or servant', presumably a class of slave, derived from Latin focus 'a fire-place, hearth' + -aria 'subjective, with respect to'. In the christian Vulgata (ADc.405) the term is used as a translation of Greek mageirivssa 'a female cook', Samuel I, (VIII.13) filias quoque uestras faciet sibi unguentarias et focarias et panificas '(the king) will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers'; the usage of this term likely dates back to one of the earlier translations of the Vetus Latina (2-4thCAD). The term was also used of 'a soldier's wife', as given in a Late Latin gloss preserved in a Glossarium of the 9th century, (CGL.V.457.31) focarias uxore(s) militum 'focariae = soldiers wives', and preserved in a 3rd century grave inscription from Ravenna, (CIL.XI.39.1-2, 8-10) M. Aureli Vitalis militis ... Valeria Fautina focaria et heres eius 'Marcus Aurelus Vitalis, soldier ... Valeria Fautina, wife (focaria) and heir'. This use of the term had the literal meanings of 'she who cooked for her husband, she who shared or tended the home hearth'. In the 4th to 5th centuries this term was adopted into the christian lexicon and--probably by the end of the Late Latin period or the start of the early Middle Ages--eventually took on the meaning 'concubine; clergyman's wife'. There is a single reference to this transitional stage of development in the Gallo-Latin text of Ennodius', Vita Epifani (ADca.502-4), which refers to a woman called Focaria, the mother of Epifanius, bishop of Pavia (AD467-97), (LXXX.7) Epifanius oriundo Ticinensis oppidi indigena fuit, patre Mauro generatus et matre Focaria editus, quae sancti etiam Mirocletis confessoris et episcopi tangebat prosapiem, hominibus ex liquido ingenuitatis fonte uenientibus 'Epifanius was born in the town of Ticinus, begotten by his father Maurus and given birth to by his mother Focaria--whose lineage, furthermore, stretched back to the holy confessor and bishop Mirocles (bishop of Milan AD304-26); both descended from men of free-born origin' (Vogel 85 & Cook 34). What can be surmised from this reference is that the woman Focaria would have inherited her name from her mother--or from some one earlier in her family tree--who would have been an actual focaria, possibly a cook, who was not married to a soldier but to a priest or ecclesiastic.

Mediaeval Latin focaria does not appear until the 12th century. The term made its way into print as a result of the catholic church's campaign to enforce sacerdotal celibacy, begun in earnest in the 11th century. An early reference appears in Radulf de Diceto's Abbreuiationes chronicorum, for the year 1137, who mentions, (MCXXXVII) Focariae quorundam canonicorum qui saeculares dicuntur 'The focariae of certain clergymen whom the laymen refer to as such' (Stubbs I.249). As a result of the priests' persistent refusal to abandon their wives or forego their mistresses--even at threat of excommunication--the focaria herself became an object of attack and scorn, such as in the moral satire Contra auaros (early13thC), where she is portrayed as avaricious and controlling, (97-98) Presbiter quae mortui quae dant uiui, quaeque refert ad focariam, cui dat sua seque 'The priest, whatsoever he receives from the dead or the living, he carries back to his focaria, to whom he gives all--including himself' (Wright 33). As a result of this growing debate the term focaria also became equated with meretrix. In an abusive gloss from MS Harley 2742 (start13thC), the word is glossed, focaria, scorto [= scortum], idem sunt, scil(icet) ribaude 'focaria = a whore, they are the same, namely ribaude' (Meyer 164), a general purpose term which covers, 'concubine, mistress; go-between; slut, hussy', from OHG hriba, hripa 'prostitute', (II.331.68) prostitutam hripun. In Old French focaria (and sacerdotissa) was rendered as prestresse 'priestess', such as the two women recorded in, Le livre de la taille de Paris (1292), Juliane la prestresse 'Julianne the priestess', and Agnes la pretresse 'Agnes the priestess' (Geraud 82 & 144). Like its Latin equivalent the French term also inherited the meaning meretrix, which occurs in Richart de Lison's Romanz de Renart (ca.1190), where the priest's focaria is referred to as, (XII.390) putein de meison 'house-whore', and (XII.1403) la pute au prestre 'the priest's slut' (Martin).



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Buck, Carl, A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian. Boston: Ginn & Company, 1904.

Chibnall, Marjorie, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, volume VI.

Cook, Genevieve, The Life of saint Epiphanius by Ennodius, vXIV of, The Catholic University of America. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Latin Language and Literature. Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1942.

Crawford, Mary, Life of St. Nicolas. Philadelphia: thesis, 1923.

Eckhardt, Karl, Pactus legis Salicae, tome IV, part I, and, Lex Salica, tome IV, part 2, Leges Nationum Germanicarum, of, MGH. Hannover, Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1962, 1969.

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Geraud, Hercule, Paris sous Philippe-le-bel. D'apres des documents originaux, et notamment d'apres un manuscrit contenant Le Role de la Taille, imposee sur les habitants de Paris en 1292. Paris: L'Imprimerie de Crapelet, 1837.

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Martin, Ernest, Le Roman de Renart. Strasbourg: K. J. Trubner, 1882-87, three volumes.

Meyer, Paul, 'Anciennes gloses francaises. I. Gloses du Ms. Harley 2742', Romania, v24 (1895): 161-73.

Pertz, Georg, Karoli magni capitularia, tome I, Legum, of, MGH. Hannover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1835.

Philippson, Emil, Der Monch von Montaudon, ein provenzalischer Troubadour. Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1873.

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Wright, Thomas, The Political Songs of England, from the reign of John to that of Edward II. London: Camden Society, 1839.

(1) The citation of putus from Vergilius' Catalepton (VII.2) Pothos (= putus) is a ghost-word introduced by the scholar Josephe Scaliger in 1595; see: Tenney Frank, 'Vergil's Apprenticeship', Classical Philology, vXV (January-October, 1920): 236; Albert van Buren, 'Catalepton VII', The Classical Review, vXXXVI n5-6 (August-September, 1922): 115-16; R. Boerma, P. Vergili Maronis libellum qui inscribitur Catalepton (Assen: De Torenlaan, 1949): 138-52.
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