Always on the lookout for new words, I came across one recently that caught my ear. It was close to Halloween and someone told me how a friend was going to let her pre-teen daughter go out Trick-or-Treating dressed “like a prostitot.”
It doesn’t take a degree in linguistics to work out that this is a portmanteau of prostitute and tot but what is significant is that someone somewhere seems to have picked up on a cultural phenomenon that needs a name. The phenomenon is that of pre-teen (or at least early teen) girls dressing in a slutty or lascivious manner.
There’s much debate on the internet about Toddlers and Tiaras, a TV show from TLC that chronicles the child beauty pageant industry. Although billed as “family entertainment,” the show features girls as young as four years of age dressed in tight-fitting gowns and sometimes swimsuits, “enhanced” by fake tans, heavy make-up, and glamorous hairstyles. Supporters argue it’s a legitimate way to help girls develop self-confidence, while detractors suggest it’s close to child pornography. I, for one, am NOT going to include any screen shots because although I don’t know what exactly would count as pornographic, I don’t want to take the risk of someone somewhere construing such images as inappropriate.
What I can comment on is the derivation of the word itself. Clearly the first element is from prostitute, the English printed debut being in 1572 in Buchanan’s Detection Mary Queen of Scots; “One of hir awne traine, one past all shame and of prostitute vnchastitie.” Here it appears as an adjective meaning “offered or exposed to lust,” and usually applied to women (with men, the word is typically prefaced by the word “male,” as in “male prostitute.”)
By 1613, it was used as a noun to describe a woman who offers her body for sexual activity, most frequently for money. In his Pilgrimages, Samuel Purchas wrote, “I haue scene houses as full of such prostitutes, as the schooles in France are full of children.” By extension, the word was also found to refer to anyone in general who sells himself or herself for gain.
This non-sexual selling of self for personal gain is the root of the modern use of prostitute as a verb. In 1674, when talking of the English Civil War, Clarendon wrote, “This Argumentation… made a great impression upon all Men who had not prostituted themselves to Cromwell and his Party.”
The word tot used to refer to a small child dates from 1725 and is of uncertain origin. Interestingly, the word Tottr in Iceland is the nickname for a dwarfish person, and in Danish the original Tom Thumb (a fairy tale character) was called tommel-tot. However, neither can be traced definitively to being the origin of tot on its own.
I was unable to find any reference to a date of first use for prostitot but the earliest dated web comment I could find was in August 2003. Another similar word is kinderwhore, which is referenced by Wikipedia as being used in 1998.