"Prostitute," "Harlot," "Whore" – Does it Make a Difference?

I’m sorry to disappoint you after that provocative title, but this is a translation issue.  I was reading Judges again this morning in the NJPS.  I read Judges 16.1, which is translated as follows: “Once Samson went to Gaza; there he met a whore and slept with her.”  I thought to myself that I was not accustomed to seeing this phrase (‘ishah zonah) translated as “whore,” but rather as “prostitute” or “harlot” (these are represented by a number of translations including NASB, ESV, NET and others).  And, I’m not sure why, but “whore” struck me as a far more abrasive term, almost like the threefold statements that Bertrand Russel was famous for (see Pinker page 18) “I am exploring my sexuality; he is promiscuous; she is a slut.”  All three of these statements can be taken to mean generally the same thing, but they differ in the amount of emotion (?) they evoke.

I was wondering if whore and prostitute fit into this kind of mold.  What do you think?  Do these different words make a difference in the emotion they evoke?  Or, do they both basically evoke the same thing?

PS – I’m in no way making any comments about prostitution, i.e. whether it’s better to prostitute or whore.  Both are a blight, though even more of a blight is the fact that some are forced into it.  This is simply meant as a linguistic issue.

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