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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.

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Common alternatives for prostitute include escort and whore; however, not all professional escorts are prostitutes.There are about 42 million prostitutes in the world, living all over the world (though most of Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa lacks data, studied countries in that large region rank as top sex tourism destinations).Another explanation is that prostituta is a composition of pro and statuere (to cause to stand, to station, place erect).Clients of prostitutes are sometimes known as johns or tricks in North America and punters in the British Isles.These slang terms are used among both prostitutes and law enforcement for persons who solicit prostitutes.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.

In Germany, however, most prostitutes' organizations deliberately use the word Hure (whore) since they feel that prostitute is a bureaucratic term.

Those seeking to remove the social stigma associated with prostitution often promote terminology such as sex worker, commercial sex worker (CSW) or sex trade worker.

Sex work researcher and writer Gail Pheterson writes that these metaphorical usages exist because "the term "prostitute" gradually took on a Christian moralist tradition, as being synonymous with debasement of oneself or of others for the purpose of ill-gotten gains".

In the Ancient Near East along the Tigris–Euphrates river system there were many shrines and temples or "houses of heaven" dedicated to various deities documented by the Ancient Greek historian Herodotus in The Histories As early as the 18th century BC, ancient Mesopotamia recognized the need to protect women's property rights.

It is sometimes referred to euphemistically as "the world's oldest profession" in the English-speaking world. Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution.