When the word brothel was first used in the English language in a 1393 poem, it was a noun meaning "scoundrel" or "wretch". Around a hundred years later, it came to be used in reference to unsavory women more than men and took on a definition of "harlot" or "prostitute". This spawned the phrase brothel-house, which was a place where prostitutes gathered, and the house was eventually dropped, giving us our modern form of the word. Going back, brothel comes from the Old English word breoðan, which meant "deteriorate" (implying that scoundrels were deteriorated and worthless humans) and further derives from Proto-Germanic breutan, "to break" (and an etymon of brittle). Finally, that's from Proto-Indo-European bhreu, meaning "cut". Usage of the word brothel in literature over time has been trending upwards, peaking in 2004.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy philosophy, trivia, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.