Photo by  Robert Bye  on  Unsplash

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

A sluttery is an untidy room, much like the one I’m sitting in as I type this. (Credit where credit’s due – I unashamedly stole this word from Sir Simon of Mayo on the Wittertainment podcast. Thank you Simon.) ‘sluttery’ dates from 1841, and is obviously derived from the word ‘slut’. You know what a slut is – a sexually promiscuous woman or girl. But ‘slut’ hasn’t always had sexual connotations, which is why the Victorians used it to describe a messy room – the OED’s first definition from 1402 is: ‘a woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance; a foul slattern.’ There’s an even earlier use of it in print in a description of a man (yes, really) in Geoff Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, published between 1340 and 1400. Chaucer wasn’t throwing shade on anyone’s sexual practices either – he used the term ‘sluttish’ to refer to the man’s messy appearance (it’s in the prologue to the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale: ‘Why is thy lord so sluttish, I thee preye’).

The sexual connotations don’t seem to have come into general use until the 20th century, when ‘woman who’s bad at housekeeping’ somehow morphed into ‘woman who can’t keep her knickers on and is therefore a bad person’.

On a more serious note, despite attempts to reclaim the word ‘slut’, most notably by SlutWalk (an international movement calling for an end to rape culture, victim blaming and slut shaming sexual assault victims), it looks set to remain a pejorative word resolved solely for women – there’s no male equivalent. In fact, Wikipedia notes that there are 220 words for sexually promiscuous women, all (all!) of which have negative connotations, and 20 for men, many of which are seen as positive (so that’s things like ‘stud’ or ‘player’). Unfortunately it looks like language still has a long way to go when it comes to levelling the gender playing field.