In modern, popular usage of the word, a harlot is a prostitute, particularly a female one. In the original meaning of the word, a harlot was a woman who engaged in sacred prostitution.
The first known appearance of the word is in the Hebrew Bible, referring to a woman who engages in sacred prostitution, a part of a pagan fertility ritual in ancient times. The motivation for the sexual activity was primarily religious in nature.
In modern English translations the major distinction between harlot and prostitute is lost, and this changes the significance of the description.
The word resurfaced again around the beginning of the 13th century in a work written in English. At that time, the word harlot was used to refer to a man and meant "a man of no fixed occupation, vagabond, beggar", and soon afterwards used to mean "male lecher".
In the 14th century, it began to be used to refer to women. How this meaning developed from the male sense is not clear. For a time, the word could also refer to a juggler or jester of either sex, but by the close of the 17th century the word referred exclusively to women.
This article is based on "Harlot" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Harlot&action=history