c.1200 (late 12c. in surnames), "vagabond, man of no fixed occupation, idle rogue," from Old French herlot, arlot "vagabond, tramp" (usually male in Middle English and Old French), with forms in Old Provençal (arlot), Old Spanish (arlote), and Italian (arlotto); of unknown origin. Used in both positive and pejorative senses by Chaucer; applied in Middle English to jesters, buffoons, jugglers, later to actors. Sense of "prostitute, unchaste woman" probably had developed by 14c., certainly by early 15c., but this was reinforced by use as euphemism for "strumpet, whore" in 16c. translations of the Bible. The word may be Germanic, with an original sense of "camp follower," if the first element is hari "army," as some suspect.