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Some similarities have been found between the Greek hetaera, the Japanese oiran, and also the Indian tawaif.

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In Germany, however, most prostitutes' organizations deliberately use the word Hure (whore) since they feel that prostitute is a bureaucratic term.Prostitution in ancient Rome was legal, public, and widespread.A registered prostitute was called a meretrix while the unregistered one fell under the broad category prostibulae.The word "prostitution" can also be used metaphorically to mean debasing oneself or working towards an unworthy cause or "selling out". 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.In this sense, "prostituting oneself" or "whoring oneself" the services or acts performed are typically not sexual. In the Code of Hammurabi, provisions were found that addressed inheritance rights of women, including female prostitutes.Female prostitutes could be independent and sometimes influential women.

They were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes.

Those seeking to remove the social stigma associated with prostitution often promote terminology such as sex worker, commercial sex worker (CSW), tantric engineer (coined by author Robert Anton Wilson), or sex trade worker.

Another commonly used word for a prostitute is hooker.

The clients of prostitutes are also 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.

Although a popular etymology connects "hooker" with Joseph Hooker, a Union general in the American Civil War, the word more likely comes from the concentration of prostitutes around the shipyards and ferry terminal of the Corlear's Hook area of Manhattan in the 1820s, who came to be referred to as "hookers".