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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When is it OK to call someone a slapper?

We had an interesting discussion in the office yesterday about the word "slapper". Somebody had used it in a feature about footballers and their marriage difficulties. It said that since the Sunday newspapers started paying out to anyone who could produce a story about having slept with a footballer, "every slapper from Newcastle to Newquay knew that they could get rich".

Eyebrows were raised about the use of that particular term. Couldn't it be replaced with something more decorous such as "gold digger" or "floozy"? Well, no. Slapper means a woman who will sleep with lots of men. There is no male equivalent because the idea is deeply ingrained in our culture that most men will, if given the chance, sleep with lots of women. You can't tweak that prejudice out of existence.

The etymology of "slapper" is unclear. It's not in my 1991 Shorter Oxford Dictionary. It doesn't appear in the usual American Dictionaries on-line. In Jonathon Green's Dictionary of Slang it's traced back, possibly to "schlepper" which might mean a slovenly person or one who paints her face. For me it's always evoked the sound of Chaucerian flesh on flesh. Although Green has it down as "a promiscuous woman", which seems about right to me, he also thinks it might mean "prostitute". I'm not convinced about that. As Mark Ellen pointed out, "prostitute" suggests the calculation of a professional and is increasingly replaced by the almost approving "sex worker".

Somebody further objected that "slapper" could be taken to denote class. I'm not so sure. I think it's a term that can be applied as freely in the smart wine bars of Chelsea as it might be in Wetherspoons. Then somebody said that by referring to Newcastle we might be conjuring up a vision of Viz's Fat Slags in the Bigg Market. Of course, since slappers are sprinkled among the population without any particular regional bias, that must say more about our prejudice about Newcastle than the writer's supposed prejudice against the place or its inhabitants.

And so on. In the end it was decided to leave it alone because we know what slapper means and it is the perfect noun for this context. We might not like to feel that we're the kind of people who would use the term, of course, but that's our problem.