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Posted by TheFallen on May 01, 2003

In Reply to: Lady of the Night - slang names posted by Maria S on May 01, 2003

: Does anyone know where the meaning 'Tom' comes from with regard to a lady of the night!

"Tom" meaning a prostitute is a slang term used in London UK, and, if TV shows are to be believed, its usage is particularly prevalent in the Police Force.

With such a London connection, the instant suspicion is that Cockney rhyming slang may be involved. Cockney rhyming slang definitely already has two other meanings for the word "tom", namely jewellery (from tomfoolery) and s h i t (from Tom Tit), which just goes to show that context is everything when trying to understand a Cockney. Some have claimed that "tom" meaning a prostitute derives from "Thomas More" equalling "w h o r e".

Another theory revolves round "tom" being an abbreviation of "tomboy", which used to carry a pejorative meaning of a bold or immodest woman, in contrast to today's sense of simply "boyish or boisterous girl".

There may well be other possibilities, but given the fact that this is such a London term - and I've never heard it used anywhere else - I favour the rhyming slang theory.