Thursday, July 17, 2008


When I was a kid, in Brooklyn, in the 'sixties, we always pronounced the common word for a prostitute as two syllables: who-er. I had no idea how it was spelled, having never seen the word in print before my teens, as far as I can remember, but I assumed it was either whoer or hooer.

If you wanted to insult another kid you'd say, "Your mother's a whoer."

There was a transient hotel in the old neighborhood, the Hotel Oak. Everybody said it was a whoer house.

Some of the older guys in the neighborhood would talk about going to Pacific Street, in now-gentrified Boerum Hill, to pick up whoers. I have no idea where they went once they picked them up, but I do know that several of them picked up the clap.

There was a knock-knock joke that went around P.S. 217 that depended on the two-syllable pronunciation. A boy would say to a girl, "Knock-a knock-a." If the girl replied, "Who's there?" the boy would say, "No, you have to do it with an Italian accent: who's-a there-a." So the girl would say, "OK, who's-a there-a?" And the boy would say, "Me-a." And the girl would say, "Me-a who-a?" And the boy would laugh and point at the girl and say, "Ha ha, you're a whoer!"

When I finally saw the word "whore" in print I was confused. I was able to figure out from the context that it was the same word, but it seemed like a strange way to spell whoer. I wondered if it was a typo.

Since I left the old neighborhood, in 1978, first for Park Slope, then the East Village, then back to Park Slope, a snob-appeal neighborhood that's nothing like the Brooklyn of my youth, I've hardly ever heard the two-syllable pronunciation of whore. But recently, as I was walking in Bensonhurst, on my way to lunch at Tanoreen, I overheard two Brooklyn boys, maybe ten or eleven years old, talking, and one of them said, "Yeah, she's a real whoer." It was strangely comforting.

* * *

Note: Just after I posted this I decided to Google whoer and hooer. Whoer, I learned, is a term for fans of the TV show "Dr. Who," so some of those whoers may find thir way to this post. More importantly, I learned that "hooer" is common
Irish slang for a prostitute, though often used as a term of endearment, a way it was never used in Brooklyn. I guess it's something like "How are you, you old bastard." Anyway, I suspect the Brooklyn pronunciation may have come from the large number of Irish in the borough.


Blogger Richard said...

I had the same experiences as you, of course, mispronouncing the word till I was about 15. Eventually I learned to pronounce it correctly, as "ho."

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Mailer used the word in "Naked and the Dead" also, a literary usage I can't recall elsewhere, but I am sure it's out there.

And in "Atlantic City", Burt Lancaster pronounces it that way.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

Thanks for those references.

Keep 'em coming, folks.

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This word was used frequently in my neighbourhood (Birkenhead England) when I was growing up in the 60's and 70's and like you I never saw the word in written text but whoer is close enough for me and I still use the word myself but it does attract some strange looks from people...cheeky whoers!!!

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this article. I'm a court reporter doing a transcript and I came across a word pronounced as "hoo-ers" by the Italian-Canadian witness in his late 60s or 70s.

I guess he must've lived in New York at some point because "whores" makes sense with what he said:

"He had some whores he had to go visit before coming home." Hahaha Gotta love Google....

6:38 PM  
Blogger TS said...

I think the Irish pronunciation is not "whooer" but "hoor". The expression "He's a cute hoor" means more or less "he's a clever son-of-a-bitch" ("cute" in the Irish sense of clever, cunning, wily, said to be derived from "acute"). "He's a cute hoor" can be said either reproachfully or admiringly.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

I grew up in Brooklyn in the 50's and early 60's. In my neighborhood (Brownsville - East New York), the pronounciation was more like "who-ah". I was also concerned when I first saw the word "where in print.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

I meant "confused" rather than "concerned".

12:42 PM  

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