Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Word Wednesdays: Winchester Geese

Every once in a while, I come across an expression I've never heard before that upon learning gives me a particular pleasure.

Such is the case for "Winchester geese," an expression that The Virtual Linguist explains is another name for a prostitute:
The Bishop of Winchester was a major landowner and regulated all the goings-on in his territory. Among his tenants were a number of prostitutes, and the bishop had the job of licensing them. And license them he did.
The prostitutes in Winchester's fiefdom were thus dubbed Winchester geese. The Church collected rent from the brothels in the area, too (then known as stews). Having taken the women's money quite happily, the Church then denied them a Christian burial when they died.
To substantiate this definition, she goes on to inform us:
Winchester goose is in the OED. Prostitute is one of the meanings, the other, earlier, meaning being venereal disease. Shakespeare uses the term in a couple of his plays. 
People are so creative—and the craziest idioms stick.

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