April 27, 2007

Red light district

Red light district: A neighbourhood containing many brothels.

Radha's excellant post on 'Kids with cameras' brought to light the phrase red-light district. I spent some hours in this district last night. Time spent into the term's origin, that is.

Version 1: Brothels once advertised their presence by burning electric lights covered with red shades or glass in their windows. This led to the Americanism 'red-light district' for an area know for its houses of prostitution, the term first recorded in the late 19th century

Version 2: The term "red light district" is said to have originated with early railroaders. The men carried lit red lanterns when they left the train so in case of an emergency the crew caller would be able to find them. These lanterns were left outside bordellos when crew members stopped to pay the ladies a visit and sometimes were brought inside to be placed in a window.

A railwayman's lit red lantern left sitting in front of an establishment could just as easily have come to signify a saloon or a barber shop as it did a brothel. On the other hand, the lit red lantern quietly residing outside a nondescript building of unclear purpose could well have come to be seen as a discreet advertisement of what was for sale within.


Version 1 gets a confirmatory endorsement in Holland, where window prostitution is legal. The question "How many windows are there in Amsterdam?" prompted a ground survey in July 2006 which put the count at 506. The picture above is worth a thousand words really.

4 comments:

Moi said...

The picture's actually worth a thousand words. This Christmas we were in Amsterdam and saw a similar sight..and for the first time i knew why a red light district is really called so.........they have purple and pink windows too but red rules supreme.....The cameras aren't allowed at these places so i cud not take pics :(
u shud see the buzz arnd the place.....i mean tourist-parents walk with kids in tow to check out the street!!!!

Found version 2 more interesting..:)

suramya said...

was aware of what it meant but never knew why it was called that :), interesting stories behind it

Radha said...

Thats an interesting piece of info, 666!
I always assumed the 'red light' stood for some sort of social signal to people not to enter that place! :)

Moi said...

Trivia time!!!!

The expression, Painting the town red , one story goes has its origins in Red Light district:

Paint the town red:
William and Mary Morris in their Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins say it probably originated on the American frontier. They link it to 'red light district' and suggest that people out for a night 'on the town' might very well take it into their heads to make the whole town red. Well, they might, then again they might not.

Source: www.phrases.org.uk