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A literal translation therefore is: "to put up front for sale" or "to place forward".The Online Etymology Dictionary states, "The notion of 'sex for hire' is not inherent in the etymology, which rather suggests one 'exposed to lust' or sex 'indiscriminately offered.'" The word prostitute was then carried down through various languages to the present-day Western society.

Another explanation is that prostituta is a composition of pro and statuere (to cause to stand, to station, place erect).Another commonly used word for a prostitute is hooker.Although a popular etymology connects "hooker" with Joseph Hooker, a Union general in the American Civil War, the word more likely comes from the concentration of prostitutes around the shipyards and ferry terminal of the Corlear's Hook area of Manhattan in the 1820s, who came to be referred to as "hookers".Depending on the jurisdiction, prostitution law may deem commercial sex to be legal or illegal.A person who works in this field is called a prostitute, and is a type of sex worker.Those offering services to female customers are commonly known as gigolos; those offering services to male customers are hustlers or rent boys.

Organizers of prostitution may be known as pimps (if male) and madams or Mama-san (if female).

A variety of terms are used for those who engage in prostitution, some of which distinguish between different types of prostitution or imply a value judgment about them.

Common alternatives for prostitute include escort and whore; however, not all professional escorts are prostitutes.

A streetwalker solicits customers on the streets or in public places, while a call girl makes appointments by phone, or in recent years, through email or the internet.

Correctly or not, use of the word prostitute without specifying a sex may commonly be assumed to be female; compound terms such as male prostitution or male escort are therefore often used to identify males.

The term john may have originated from the frequent customer practice of giving one's name as "John", a common name in English-speaking countries, in an effort to maintain anonymity. is not literally a prostitute; Holden feels that his job writing B-movie screenplays is morally debasing.