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The English word whore derives from the Old English word hōra, from the Proto-Germanic *hōrōn (prostitute), which derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *keh₂- meaning "desire", a root which has also given us Latin cārus (dear), whence the French cher (dear, expensive) and the Latin cāritās (love, charity).

Use of the word whore is widely considered pejorative, especially in its modern slang form of ho.

Most sex worker activists groups reject the word prostitute and since the late 1970s have used the term sex worker instead.

In this sense, "prostituting oneself" or "whoring oneself" the services or acts performed are typically not sexual. In 2007, a Russian caricature depicted the Baltic states as three "ladies of the night", "vying for the attentions of Uncle Sam, since the Russian client has run out of money".

Another commonly used word for a prostitute is hooker.

Although a popular etymology connects "hooker" with Joseph Hooker, a Union general in the American Civil War, the word more likely comes from the concentration of prostitutes around the shipyards and ferry terminal of the Corlear's Hook area of Manhattan in the 1820s, who came to be referred to as "hookers".

There are about 42 million prostitutes in the world, living all over the world (though most of Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa lacks data, studied countries in that large region rank as top sex tourism destinations).

Another explanation is that prostituta is a composition of pro and statuere (to cause to stand, to station, place erect).