Myth # 85: Prostitutes were so common around Gen. Joseph Hooker’s army that they became known as “hookers.”

General Joseph Hooker

According to this myth, there were so many prostitutes working around Union General Joseph Hooker’s army that they became known as “Hooker’s Division” or “Hooker’s Brigade” or simply “hookers.” The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang calls this story “popular fiction.”

The fly in the ointment is that the term was in use before the Civil War. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word had its origins as early as 1567 when it meant petty thief or pickpocket. (Other definitions include a person who fastened his clothing with hooks, like the Amish, a two-masted Dutch finishing vessel, and a rugby player, but we’ll ignore those.)

In America this synonym for prostitute dates back at least as far as 1845. It probably evolved from the conventional sense of hook, to lure and take or rob, qualities associated with prostitutes. John Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms of 1859 defines a hooker as a strumpet and says it comes from the New York  neighborhood known as Corlear’s Hook, where there were lots of prostitutes. That’s probably another myth. 

Since “hooker” already meant prostitute by the time of the Civil War, it was an obvious joke to refer to the prostitutes around General Hooker’s army as Hooker’s Brigade.   

(An interesting aside: in French, the man who solicits patrons to come to a whorehouse is known as an accrocheur, or hooker, from the verb accrocher, to hook.) 

About these ads

2 Responses to Myth # 85: Prostitutes were so common around Gen. Joseph Hooker’s army that they became known as “hookers.”

  1. Any truth to the story that the word hooker came from women using a crochet hook, a la this website http://www.helium.com/items/1212157-the-history-of-crochet. It’s a popular one in the crochet world!

  2. Ted says:

    The version I got was that Gen. Hooker was known to keep the company of Washington, D.C. prostitutes after the Civil War; he wasn’t very discreet about it. The ladies of the evening became labeled “Hooker’s brigade” ( or army).
    I’ve read and heard this from a number of sources and don’t doubt that Gen. Hooker was associated with local prostitutes. I agree that the joke probably reinforced the “hooker” slang that was already common.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,247 other followers

%d bloggers like this: