In a Word: Demirep

December 06, 2010

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. Use it in a sentence in a comment on his blog, You Don't say, and the best sentence will be featured next week. This week's word:

demirep

A woman who is no better than she should be, a woman of poor reputation, suspected of sexual promiscuity, has in the past been called a demirep. The word comes from demi — half, diminished — and repute.

For context, the excellent website wordnik.com offers a passage from Fielding's Tom Jones: "that character which is vulgarly called a demirep; that is to say, a woman who intrigues with every man she likes, under the name and appearance of virtue; and who, though some overnice ladies will not be seen with her, is visited (as they term it) by the whole town, in short, whom everybody knows to be what nobody calls her."

A demirep would likely be considered a resident of the demimonde, the "half-world." The term originally referred to groups of women of doubtful chastity, or prostitutes, and has come to refer to any class of people of questionable ethics.

Demirep sounds archaic to our ears, echoing a long-past time when one's reputation was thought to amount to something and personal discretion was prized. Today an equivalent word would be celebrity — e.g., a person whose serial affairs are chronicled in the press, or who has used a surreptitious videotape of a sexual encounter as a qualification for starring in a reality TV show.

Not to be sexist, we offer some terms for the male equivalent of a demirep: decaucher, lecher, libertine, rake, reprobate, rip (probably a slang shortening of reprobate) and satyr.

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