Prostitution is referred to as the oldest profession, but the German word "Prostituierte" is a borrowing that started being used in the German language around 1800. I would like to know what the prostitutes were most commonly called in Germany before.

My question is this: What are the main German words or short expressions used before 1800 for women who regularly engage in sexual activity for payment?

I did my own research and found the words "Nutte" and "Hure," but I am not satisfied. The word "Nutte" originated in the late 1800s, after the word "Prostituierte" was borrowed. Concerning the word "Hure," my impression is that it is very derogatory, whilst I want to learn the normal German words, similar to 遊女 (woman of pleasure), which pay more respect to the oldest profession.

  • 1
    Do you want a word that was respectful at the time, or a word that is still respectful now? Words for women and girls tend to get less respectful over time, as it is usually polite to use slightly too respectful words for them.
    – sgf
    Jul 9, 2019 at 12:44
  • @sgf : What I want is to learn what the prostitutes were most commonly called before 1800. I cannot believe that all common words in that epoch were derogatory (like Hure). I cannot imagine derogatory words being used in legislative acts, prostitute licenses, Bible translations, etc. I cannot imagine people using derogatory names to call girls they have fun with. It would be self-humiliating. There must have been normal German words for a prostitute in that epoch. And I want to find them.
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 9, 2019 at 12:56
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    I cannot imagine people using derogatory names to call girls they have fun with. They would, and they still do. And being a prostitute was never a respectable profession in Germany. Also, Hure isn't that derogatory, I don't think it's significantly less respectful than Prostituierte. I guess when Hure was first used, it was a fairly non-judgmental word; that is it didn't carry any more judgment than people had for prostitutes anyways.
    – sgf
    Jul 9, 2019 at 12:59
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    No, it isn't! Don't do that! Jul 9, 2019 at 13:50
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    It might be well to point out that Germany just didn't have the concept of 遊女. Elegant men might have a mistress, but they wouldn't, as far as I know, show up with a prostitute at social occasions. Kurtisane probably really is the nearest you can get to that, but it's not that clear that courtesans were always, or even usually, prostitutes. It's also no originally German word, of course, but 遊女 likewise only has a Kan-on reading, so it's pretty much the same in Japanese.
    – sgf
    Jul 9, 2019 at 16:31

3 Answers 3


The wikipedia site on medieval prostitution lists as terms for prostitutes in medieval sources:

  • meretrix, a Latin word for "whore"
  • prostibilis, Latin for "offering oneself,
  • gemaine weiber (="gemeine Weiber"), "common women", apparently because prostitutes usually would have to take any customer,
  • frie frowen (="freie Frauen"), "free ladies", which according to Wikipedia meant prostitutes who were self-employed and could therefore choose what customers to take.

None of these terms are still in use though.

Luther uses "Hure" in the first German translation of the bible:

  • "ES sol kein Hure sein vnter den töchtern Jsrael /Vnd kein Hurer vnter den sönen Jsrael." (Deut 23:17)
  • "DArumb du Hure / höre des HERRN wort" (Ez 16:35)
  • ...

The Constitution Criminalis Theresiana also uses "Hure":

  • "Dahingegen wider die dritte Gattung der Huren, und gemeinen Schleppsäcken allemal Landgerichtlich mit empfindlicher Leibsstrafe, und jeweiliger Lands- oder Landsgerichtsverweisung zu verfahren ist." (In Art. 81, "von gemeiner Hurerey, und anderen ungeziemlichen Beywohnungen", §2)

  • "Drittens: Da hervorkäme, dass eine unzüchtig-unverschämte Vettel das Hurenleben schon geraume Zeit getrieben, und gleichsam ein Handwerk daraus gemacht habe." (Ebd., §3)

  • (Whereas against the third kind of whores, and common procurers(?), one has always to apply corporeal punishment and expulsion from the district or the county jurisdiction.)

  • (Third: If it becomes apparent that a lewd and shameless hag has led the whore's life for some time, and has made a trade of it."

Note both the pejorative language that is used for professional prostitutes, and that prostitution is a delict that is to be punished by "empfindlicher Leibsstrafe" (corporeal punishment) and expulsion from the place of jurisdiction.

  • Thanks a lot. Since "Hure" was used in the Bible, it seems it was indeed the most common word or at least one of the most common words in that epoch..
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 9, 2019 at 13:22

There's Dirne and, more specifically, Lustdirne which doesn't seem as derogatory as Hure but underwent pejoration over the centuries. The Wikipedia article Prostitution im Mittelalter mentions a few other words like meretrix, but it's possible that there simply wasn't a respectful designation, since historically, prostitution was always stigmatized in Germany.



From wikipedia:

Der Begriff „Kurtisane“ leitet sich von dem Wort „Cortigiana“ ab, was eigentlich Hofdame bedeutet, und bezeichnete um 1500 die gehobene Prostituierte, vergleichbar mit den Hetären des antiken Griechenlands.

  • It's older (16th century)
  • Pays more respect to the profession

Note that the 1545 Bible translation by Luther (version from zeno.org) uses Hure. See Matthäus 21 / 31:

Jhesus sprach zu jnen / Warlich ich sage euch / Die Zölner vnd Huren mügen wol ehe ins Himelreich komen /denn jr.

  • Thanks a lot. Were there any nice common original German words as well?
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 9, 2019 at 12:29
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    Nice words are rare. Freudenmädchen sounds nicer, but is too recent (18th century, from French fille de joie). Older and more German is Metze but it's also derogatory. Dirne is also not that nice, but old (8th century). Jul 9, 2019 at 12:35
  • What were the prostitutes called in official documents before 1800, e.g., in legislative acts, prostitute licenses, Bible translations, etc.? I guess that serious documents could not contain derogatory slang words. Was "Kurtisane" the most common word in such documents?
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 9, 2019 at 12:41
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    Dirne is way older. It's the (continuation of) the Proto-Germanic word *þewernō, which apparently meant virgin. (And in many Austrian dialects, Dirndl still simply means girl. The Luther bible also still has Dirne for girl, for example.)
    – sgf
    Jul 9, 2019 at 12:43
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    @Mitsuko - In Christian Europe, prostitutes were sinners and lead men to sin, and they were at the bottom of the society with petty criminals. Old serious documents are expected to be derogatory when dealing with prostitutes. In fact, if you want non derogatory words for prostitutes you should search for some words used today - although the euphemism treadmill may render those words derogatory in the future.
    – Pere
    Jul 9, 2019 at 22:50

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