Saturday, January 21, 2006

Today's Lesson in UK slang

Today's UK slang word is "rent boy," also sometimes written "rentboy."

According to Wikipedia, "rentboy is a chiefly British, Irish and New Zealand term for a young (though often adult), male homosexual prostitute usually though not always of working class origins. (Middle class male prostitutes are often known as escorts.)

"The name is derived either from the fact that the boys were renting themselves out, or that they paid their rent with their earnings."

As in: "Former Liberal Democrat leadership challenger Mark Oaten has stood down as the party's home affairs spokesman over an alleged affair with a rent boy."

The BBC article uses "rent boy" three different times without clarifying precisely what they mean, or going into the details of the story. Was this 23-year-old a street prostitute, or a kept man? Was it a prolonged affair? How did the two meet? Etc.

Either the phrase "rent boy" is doing some kind of culturally nuanced work, suggesting more of a story than I'm able to spin out of it, or it's being used vaguely -- deliberately or not -- in a way that suggests the most sordid possibilities. I mean, "male prostitute" is general, but it's more clinical, less obviously perjorative.

Either way, doesn't it seem like a particularly nasty use of words to characterize both parties?

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