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From men to cute, the word “slut” had very different meanings

by Aadarsh Jain

From men to cute, the word “slut” had very different meanings

April 30, 2021

Over the span of six decades, the term 'slut' has taken on many meanings. It was first used to refer to men and then dogs on different occasions. Continue reading to find out what changed the meaning of the word so drastically.

The Word "Slut" And Its Meanings

The first use of the word slut in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in the Prologue to the “Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale”: “Why is thy lord so sluttish…” In other terms, at least one author in the 14th century used the term slut to refer to a male, and if you read the meaning of that quotation, it’s obvious that Chaucer wasn’t thinking about women. He’s referring to the man’s untrustworthy look, which contrasts with his rank.

“A lady with filthy, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance; a foul slattern,” says the first description. The first reference for this use is from 1402. However, because slut had no sexual implications at the time, using it in print was not objected upon.

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“A woman of poor or loose character; a bold girl; a hussy, jade,” says the second description. However, the sexual nature of this term isn’t exactly clear from the references. Sir Thomas Burton, for example, describes “a peevish drunken flirt, a waspish choleric slut” in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1651). This clearly isn’t a compliment, but it’s unclear whether he’s criticizing her character or her housekeeping.

“Our little girl Susan is a most admirable whore, and pleases us mightily,” wrote Samuel Pepys in the mid-17th century.

Nonetheless, by the twentieth century, we seemed to have abandoned the concept of “evil housekeeper” in favor of the current one: a woman with poor morals, or, as some might put it, “a woman with the morals of a man.” The word’s meaning has changed once again, with some women appropriating the word to set themselves free of society’s moral judgements.  

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