I was reading a New York Times story about South Korean prostitutes, and I got to wondering about the word pimp.
Pimp has evolved into a word that can carry a positive connotation. Cool things are pimpin’ or just pimp (though those are pretty stale as slang), and people ask Xzibit to “Pimp My Ride.”
Of course, it has negative connotations. Pimps are the men who control prostitutes. And someone who has wide success in sleeping with women might be called a pimp. (That’s mostly negative because a woman who does the same thing with men generally gets called a slut.)
But where does pimp come from? Those who call themselves pimps might be surprised at Merriam-Webster Online’s etymology: “probably akin to British dialect pimp small bundle of sticks, Middle English pymple papule, German Pimpf young boy, kid, literally, little fart, Pumpf, Pumps fart. Date: 1600.”
The Oxford English Dictionary isn’t so sure about that, though, or really about anything of its origin:
“A connection with German Pimpf small boy (c1920 or earlier in this sense, originally derogatory) has been suggested, but this presents semantic problems, and the German word is only attested much later.
“Another suggestion is that the word may be shortened < PIMPERNEL n. … but this also presents semantic problems.
“The similarity to the following French words is probably coincidental: pimpant alluring or seducing in outward appearance or dress, in later use also elegant, coquettish, affected (c1500 in Middle French as pinpant), pimper to adorn, attire (a person, oneself) (1578 in Middle French; now regional (Wallonia, Picardy)); these are ultimately of imitative origin.”
The OED also has an interesting list of obsolete compound words formed with pimp:
- pimp errant n. Obs. rare: a travelling pimp.
- pimp-master n. Obs. rare: a chief pimp.
- pimp-master general n. humorous Obs.: the chief of all pimps (as a supposed office or title).
- pimp-tenure n. Obs.: money paid for the lodging and other expenses of prostitutes.
- pimp-whiskin n. colloq. Obs.: a pander, a procurer