E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
is said to be derived from Harlotta, the mother of William the Conqueror, but it is more likely to be a corruption of horlet (a little hireling), hore being the past participle of hyran (to hire). It was once applied to males as well as females. Hence Chaucer speaks of a sturdy harlot . that was her hostes man. The word varlet is another form of it.
He was gentil harlot, and a kinde;
A bettre felaw shulde man no wher finde.
Chaucer: Canterbury Tales, prol. 649.
The harlot king is quite beyond mine arm.
Shakespeare: Winters Tale, ii. 3.
Proverbial names for a harlot are Aholibah and Aholah (Ezek. xxiii. 4), probably symbolic characters; Petrowna (of Russia), and Messalina (of Rome).