May 4, 2007

"No one expects a woman accused of a crime -- particularly of being a madam -- to arrive for court dressed in a tight dress and a feather boa."

There's such a thing as dressing for court, and we have to talk about what Deborah Jeane Palfrey wore. If you're looking for signs that she is what she's accused of, what should you look for? Running a sex ring is a business, but does that mean you'd wear a business suit? People who run businesses can wear all sorts of things, but do they wear what their employees wear? It's more predictable that they would dress in the way that would inspire trust in their clients:
If it turns out that Washington men have their own madam -- with a stable of college-educated call girls -- then it makes sense that she would look like the many anonymous staffers who are paid to keep these men's schedules and -- for a time -- their secrets.
And that's what Palfrey did.

By the way, do you have a problem with the word "madam" to refer to what Palfrey is accused of? Dictionary definition:
abbr. Mdm. 1. Inflected forms: pl. Mes·dames (m-dm, -däm) Used formerly as a courtesy title before a woman's given name but now used only before a surname or title indicating rank or office: Madam Ambassador. 2. Used as a salutation in a letter: Dear Madam or Sir. 3. madam Used as a form of polite address for a woman: Right this way, madam. 4. madam The mistress of a household. 5. madam A woman who manages a brothel.
My problem isn't that a word that is supposed to embody respect for women has gotten associated with something degrading. That is the ordininary way language develops. I'm trying to think of other examples of the way a lofty word must be brought down. Help me out here. I'm thinking of naming the dog "King," saying "You're a prince" to a jerk, and calling a young woman with a ridiculous sense of entitlement a "princess."

My problem with the use of the word is that a madam is supposed to "manage a brothel," to have a household relationship with the workers. Connecting people up by telephone and email isn't the same.

13 comments:

Oligonicella said...

You're being pedantic.

This is the electronic age. Since a "house of prostitution" is a far less common thing now, it makes sense that they change their business structure model. Harder to bust. Yes, a pun.

Ron said...

"Master" and "Mistress" also used to be just forms of address and now have uses that are negatively tinged...

MrBuddwing said...

I'm no maven of the English language, but even I've noticed that there was a time when words like "explicit" and "ejaculate" had non-sexual connotations. Lately, I've discovered I must be careful when I talk about "hooking up" with someone.

AllenS said...

Last year, Paris Hilton was on Letterman, and described herself as a businesswoman. Does she dress like a businesswoman?

Annie said...

Sure it is the same. It's just a virtual brothel, a home-delivery brothel. This is a service economy.

Annie said...

As for words: how about "toilet" which used to be "toilette"? It started out as a polite uphemism and became the thing itself.

Roger Sweeny said...

She's a pimp, or a purveyor. Sure, pimp usually means a male but language evolves ...

Galvanized said...

She should be called a "pimptress." That's more fitting.

As for whether or not she's an actual madam, I think that she's worse. The fact that she does her work in a virtual, non-physical fashion, I'm sure, makes her feel that her hands are cleaner, that she is removed from what she actually is, which is a panderer and an exploiter. She may put money in a girl's pocketbook who is paying her student loans, but this woman gets rich by letting another do the real work and lose her self worth, while she slips herself a wad for simply putting people in touch. And dressing in a suit, I am sure, she hopes will separate her from the young women she pimps, however educated or classy. No matter -- it's still a filthy job, dress however you like, Madam Palfrey.

vet66 said...

Anna Nicole Smith decorated the hallowed halls of Justice recently so I believe she put paid to the notion of propriety.

Referring to Palfrey (Latin-paraveredus meaning horse or courier) seems fitting enough to use the term Madam in an effort to sanitize her activities.

It appears that the real house of prostitution is the federal government that took advantage of her outsourcing activities. The feather boa was totally appropos as is Victoria's Secret, which is no secret!

Freder Frederson said...

She's not a Madam at all, she delivers a sexual, but completely legal business. The one guy who has been forced to resign so far assures us that nothing sexual occurred. He just hired the women for perfectly legal naked massages.

That's their story and they're sticking to it.

Jeff said...

Pimp has completely different connotations than Madame. A pimp provides sex with a threat of violence, while a Madame provides sex with a degree of hospitality. It's Iceberg Slim contrasted with Texas Guinan.

I'm sure we'll have female pimps soon enough. The PC obsession with gender-neutralizing the english language is on the verge of eliminating "actress" as it already has "waitress" and "comedienne". It would take a real heroine to buck the trend...

John Burgess said...

'Pimp' or 'procuress' both assume the conclusion that she was running, in virtual space or otherwise, a brothel. That has yet to be legally established and is, in fact, them matter of the case.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that that is indeed what she was doing, then 'madame' seems appropriate.

BTW: check out the etymology of 'queen'. That one started out close to the meaning of 'prostitute'.

Revenant said...

this woman gets rich by letting another do the real work and lose her self worth, while she slips herself a wad for simply putting people in touch

As this case demonstrates, her role carries the highest risk of serious prison time. She also handles the task of screening out and tracking freaks, police, et al, an thus ensuring that the actual escorts get a reliable supply of quality clients. So no, she isn't "simply putting people in touch". Hers is the same role a consulting firm plays -- just illegal.

And John, according to dictionary.com you're thinking of "quean", which is a different word that (when it was used) was pronounced differently than "queen".