Word Origin & History
"prostitute," often traced to the disreputable morals of the Army of the Potomac (American Civil War) under the tenure of Gen. "Fighting Joe" Hooker (1863), and the word probably was popularized by this association at that time. But it is said to have been in use in North Carolina c.1845 ("If he comes
by way of Norfolk he will find any number of pretty Hookers in the Brick row not far from French's hotel."). One theory traces it to Corlear's Hook, a disreputable section of New York City. Perhaps related to hooker "thief, pickpocket" (1567), but most likely an allusion to prostitutes hooking or snaring clients. Hook in the figurative sense of "that by which anyone is attracted or caught" is recorded from 1430; and hook (v.) in the figurative sense of "catch hold of and draw in" is attested from 1577; in reference to "fishing" for a husband or a wife, it was in common use from c.1800. All of which makes the modern sense seem a natural step. The family name Hooker (attested from c.975 C.E.) would mean "maker of hooks," or else refer to an agricultural laborer who used a hook (cf. O.E. weodhoc "weed-hook").