Please re-open Why (and since when) is prostitution called “the world's oldest profession”? . Talking about a well-known euphemism that's used in polite company (even Ronald Reagan has referred to the phrase!) shouldn't be closed because the subject matter is somehow "dirty".

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    I very much doubt that any of the people who voted to close that question did so because they thought it was "dirty". We probably do try to avoid avoid question titles like Exactly how rude is "cunt", but even there I think the "prudery" only extends to titles, not the subject matter that can be discussed. On the other hand, this question may get closed (though I won't vote for that), on the grounds that it looks like an attempt to get round the fact that you haven't earned sufficient rep to vote to re-open the other question. Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 23:58
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    @Fumble: not prudery, just respect for others' possible prudery.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 0:39
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    @Mitch: I think that's a large part of why we don't want profanity in titles. Another large part obviously is just that Jeff Atwood is resolutely against it. And if I understand him aright, that's neither because of his prudery nor respect for the same in others - it's just that he doesn't want to encourage the kind of rubberneckers it would attract, a stance I agree with. But we freely discuss all aspects of language, regardless of whether some might be thereby discomfitted. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 0:58
  • @FumbleFingers: Asking about closed questions have resulted in them being re-opened at meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/536/… and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/86690/… . One difference was that this time I said "Please re-open" rather than "Why was this closed?", which might be seen as a little more pushy.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 1:16
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    I take it you haven't changed your position in light of mine and @Mitch's responses, and that you'd still like the question reopened. But you've given no reasons at all, let alone reasons that would convince me to side with you (unlikely in the extreme, since I think the question is both trivial and only peripherally connected to ELU's core interests). I'm not wishing to be dismissive of you personally, but I really think you're flogging a dead horse unless you can come up with some supporting arguments for reopening. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 1:26
  • @FumbleFingers: I've asked Mitch a question in reply to his answer.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 1:34
  • The question was closed twice. I think it's safe to say that the community doesn't want it open.
    – user10893
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 1:35
  • @simchona: You can't close a question twice unless it's been re-opened!
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 1:37
  • @Andrew: It was reopened because we thought it could be improved. I did edit the question, and vote to reopen. However, even in that form 5 more people voted to close.
    – user10893
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 1:38
  • @FumbleFingers: thanks for answering my question to Mitch, which I've replied to. I'll mull things over a bit and see if there's anything else I can add.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 2:34

2 Answers 2


After I had voted to close the question, F'x contributed some good edits. I have since voted to reopen it, since I agree that tracing the history and usage of the phrase is appropriate and on-topic for this site.

I think the question could be made even better and more obviously on-topic if it were written such that it could be answered by a post such as F'x's, or something similar, if you found his objectionable. Perhaps if you edited it like that, more users would agree that it is on-topic.


It doesn't seem reopenable to me. It wasn't closed because it is a taboo subject: it is pretty low on the taboo scale. It was closed because it is not particularly substantive about English -language-. It's a question of sociology and history and humor, not language.

Did you have an answer to give to it? Then I think you can still answer or put it In a comment there.

Are you curious about other answers? I think one of the answers there actually does trace the history as well as could be done, so no need for more of the same.

  • Definitely low on the taboo scale. I notice now that several people chose to write f**k in this question, but when it was active I never for a moment thought that anyone would be offended by those who just wrote the word out in full. If they were, that would have been their problem anyway - but nothing has ever given me the impression that there's even an issue there. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 1:07
  • I think F'x's answer is very good, but that a good answer already exists shouldn't influence whether a question remains closed. About sociology and history: would the same be true of english.stackexchange.com/questions/9824/… ?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 1:12
  • @Andrew Grimm: That "nigger" question is entirely different. It asks about the evolution of a specific word for which the connotations have changed radically even in my own lifetime (I've no doubt some would prefer it if I'd simply omitted the word itself when referring to the question). The matter of when/if someone thought up a larky/jocular euphemism for prostitution, or whether it means anything to speak of a "profession" that was engaged in countless millenia before we even had language, simply isn't in the same league. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 2:00
  • @FumbleFingers: Whether prostitution counts as a profession, and whether it's really the oldest profession, isn't in the current version of the question. That may explain why it was originally closed, but not why it remains closed. Asking when a term originated, versus a detailed question of how it has evolved, may be slightly different, but I'd argue it's in the same league.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 2:27
  • @Andrew Grimm: So what exactly do you hope to learn if the question is reopened? Clearly "oldest profession" was applied to a variety of occupations before anyone dared go into print with the prostitution "joke", and I would think it's a certainty the joke was recoined and passed around repeatedly by word of mouth before being printed anyway. I think the whole question has been done to death here already. If you think you can get any more mileage out of it then good luck to you. I don't think I'll be checking back on it for any new and interesting insights, even if it does get reopened. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 3:37

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