Home > Britain, Corruption, History, India, Social Trends > The Straight Dope: why is prostitution called the oldest profession?

The Straight Dope: why is prostitution called the oldest profession?


Worlds’s oldest profession is a little over 100 years old.

Prostitution - A Smart Career Choice  |  Source - Internet; Category - T-Shirt Humour - Funny Prostitution

Prostitution - A Smart Career Choice | Source - Internet; Category - T-Shirt Humour - Funny Prostitution

for the details I turned to Barry Popik, chairman of the Straight Dope philology department. He responded with a new post to his word-origins blog, at barrypopik.com. Based on this we construct the following account:

1. The originator of the notion of prostitution as the oldest profession was Rudyard Kipling. His 1888 short story “On the City Wall” begins: “Lalun is a member of the most ancient profession in the world. … In the West, people say rude things of Lalun’s profession, and write lectures about it and distribute the lectures to young persons in order that Morality may be preserved.” Lalun is, of course, a hooker.

2. Kipling, as is the wont of authors, wasn’t offering a learned insight into the labor markets of antiquity but rather making a quip.

3. It was, however, a quip with legs. Previously the oldest profession was generally considered to be farming. For example, Popik notes, in 1883 the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Herald proclaimed, “In fact agriculture is the first and best as well as the oldest profession.” (via The Straight Dope: Is excess American body fat a potential energy resource? Plus: why is prostitution called the oldest profession?).

Going USA

Kipling’s biggest successes were his books on India.

Strangely, after Kipling emigrated to the US, he worked hard to completely erase his Indian Connection. He tried his hand at ‘white’ themes like Captains Courageous (1897). But, what became famous were his ‘Indian’ books like Kim and The Light That Failed (1890).

Probably, more a reflection on American society, than on Kipling.

Drop of tar

A few decades after Kipling went to America, came the story of Merle Oberon.

A part-Indian actress in Hollywood, Merle Oberon’s biggest struggle was to overcome the ‘drop of tar’ in her blood. Merle Oberon’s nephew, Micahel Korda, used her story to get a book commission, Queenie, that was also made into a movie. There is more in Michael Korda’s insipid novel, Queenie. Her great niece, Shelley Conn, is being cast by Spielberg – whose ET was ‘co-incidentally’ similar to a Satyajit Rai script.).

Wondering

Coming back to the world’s oldest profession. After giving all possible benefit of doubt to Kipling, still, it does not stop me from wondering.

Was Kipling’s ‘Lalun’ character from the world’s oldest profession, based on Kipling’s lack of respect for India.


  1. February 27, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    https://twitter.com/#!/goldenarcher/status/1742454408191795201

  2. February 27, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    “Strangely, after Kipling emigrated to the US, he worked hard to completely erase his Indian Connection. ”

    not strange anymore. this has been recognized as a behavior pattern. Rajiv Malhotra calls it out as part of his ‘U-turn theory’, a book to be published soon. another example is TS Eliot. there are many more.

  3. February 28, 2012 at 5:57 am
    While I am aware of TS Eliots’s references to Sanskritic verses in writings, unlike Kipling, he was not born and brought up in India.
  4. March 1, 2012 at 6:28 am

    kipling was neutralised by swami vivekananda in america.

  5. July 7, 2014 at 5:31 am

    Reblogged this on thoughtsofapunter and commented:
    I always thought that the origin of the phrase “the oldest profession” went back far beyond Kipling so I was interested to read this post. If prostitution is, indeed the oldest profession it surely shares that distinction with punting!

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