Prostitutes are not, as I once fondly imagined, women who stand in for (pro stituo) wives, they are women who stand in front of brothels.
Strumpet rhymes with trumpet and crumpet, that is the main reason for the word [limericks in the comments please, and if you don't like it you can lump it]. Nobody's quite sure where the word comes from, but it may have influenced guitars:
TO STRUM: to have carnal knowledge of a woman, also to play badly on the harpsichord or any other stringed instrument. [Capt. Francis Grose, "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 1796]
Whore is a cutting indictment of the sexism of our language, or rather amusing, depending on you point of view. Once upon a time (approximately 6,000 years ago) people buried each other in pits and loved one another, an action they called *qar. They invaded India and wrote the Kama Sutra. They invaded Italy, became Roman and called each other carus or dear, then they caressed and cherished their dear ones, cherie, and were charitable towards them. Some of the pit-burying lovers invaded Germany and started pronouncing C as H (car to har) so they fucked whores*.
There isn't much good prose in Anglo-Saxon. There are a few wonderful poems. The Wanderer, Seafarer, Ruin, Wife's Lament and Beowulf are beautiful. Prose-wise Anglo-Saxon's a bunch of crap. Alfric's colloquies are insanely inane. His Preface to Genesis is worse; and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle exalts upon plateaus of tedium never dreamt of by wet paint. Therefore, to fill out the prose section of any Anglo-Saxon course people insist upon teaching you Cynewulf and Cyneheard, the only almost interesting part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Basically a chap killed another chap while he was visiting a prostitute. Unfortunately for posterity and teachers of Anglo-Saxon this murder was so bloody exciting that for most of the story the chronicler forgets to mention which one is which. It's all "They said 'Come out" and they said 'No you come out.' Then they came out and they saw them and they killed the them that was they." [I had to do a damned exam on this]
However, to be fair to the chronicler he did say that he [Cynewulf] was : "wīfcȳþþe on Merantūne"
Wif [wife] meant woman and cȳþþe [pronounced coother] meant intimacy.We were instructed to translate wīfcȳþþe on Merantūne as "wenching in Merton". I'm glad that we were. I am glad to have written the word wenching at least once.
Things have changed in Merton. It's just a part of South London. There's no stockade there anymore and I've just discovered that, according to Merton Borough Council's website, the main reason for visiting the place is now the community toilet scheme.
*Before I get beaten to death by an enraged mob of philologists, I should point out that my fixing on the Kurgan pit-burial culture and my use of the word invade are both decisions based on caprice and whimsy.
P.S. I know I mentioned prostitutes last week. I shall try and keep off the sex trade for a while. It's all David Blunkett's fault.
P.P.S. For those of you who like etymology this video is really very funny and fascinating. (Hat-tip to Bradshaw of the Future)