respelling of Old English hw- attested from 11c., but not the common form until after c. 1400. It represents PIE *kw-; in German reduced to simple w-, in Scandinavian as hv-, kv-, or v-.
It also was added unetymologically to some borrowed words (whisk, whiskey) and some native words formerly spelled with simple w- or h- (whole, whore). In the 15c. flowering of its use it also threatened to change the spelling of hot, home and many more. In northern English 16c.-18c., sometimes altered to quh- (see Q). Proper pronunciation has been much in dispute in educated speech.
The spelling with wh- developed early 15c. The sense in whole number is from early 14c. Whole milk is from 1782. On the whole "considering all facts or circumstances" is from 1690s. For phrase whole hog, see hog (n.).
1530s spelling alteration (see wh-) of Middle English hore, from Old English hore "prostitute, harlot," from Proto-Germanic *hōran-, fem. *hōrā- (source also of Old Frisian hor "fornication," Old Norse hora "adulteress," Danish hore, Swedish hora, Dutch hoer, Old High German huora "prostitute;" in Gothic only in the masc. hors "adulterer, fornicator," also as a verb, horinon "commit adultery"), probably etymologically "one who desires," from PIE root *ka- "to like, desire," which in other languages has produced words for "lover; friend."
Whore itself is perhaps a Germanic euphemism for a word that has not survived. The Old English vowel naturally would have yielded *hoor, which is the pronunciation in some dialects; it might have shifted by influence of Middle English homonym hore "physical filth, slime," also "moral corruption, sin," from Old English horh. The wh- form became current 16c. A general term of abuse for an unchaste or lewd woman (without regard to money) from at least c. 1200. Of male prostitutes from 1630s. Whore of Babylon is from Revelation xvii.1, 5, etc. In Middle English with occasional plural forms horen, heoranna.
The word, with its derivatives, is now avoided polite speech; its survival in literature, so as it survives, is due to the fact that it is a favorite word with Shakspere (who uses it, with its derivatives, 99 times) and is common in the authorized English version of the Bible ... though the American revisers recommended the substitution of harlot as less gross .... [Century Dictionary]
Some equivalent words in other languages also derive from sources not originally pejorative, such as Bohemian nevestka, diminutive of nevesta "bride;" Dutch deern, German dirne originally "girl, lass, wench;" also perhaps Old French pute, perhaps literally "girl," fem. of Vulgar Latin *puttus (but perhaps rather from Latin putidus "stinking;" see poontang). Welsh putain "whore" is from French, probably via Middle English. Among other languages, Greek porne "prostitute" is related to pernemi "sell," with an original notion probably of a female slave sold for prostitution; Latin meretrix is literally "one who earns wages" (source of Irish mertrech, Old English miltestre "whore, prostitute").
The vulgar Roman word was scortum, literally "skin, hide." Another term was lupa, literally "she-wolf" (preserved in Spanish loba, Italian lupa, French louve; see wolf (n.)). And of course there was prostituta, literally "placed in front," thus "publicly exposed," from the fem. past participle of prostituere (see prostitute (n.)). Another Old Norse term was skækja, which yielded Danish skøge, Swedish sköka; probably from Middle Low German schoke, which is perhaps from schode "foreskin of a horse's penis," perhaps with the sense of "skin" (compare Latin scortum) or perhaps via an intermediary sense of "vagina." Spanish ramera, Portuguese rameira are from fem. form of ramero "young bird of prey," literally "little branch," from ramo "branch." Breton gast is cognate with Welsh gast "bitch," of uncertain origin. Compare also strumpet, harlot.
Old Church Slavonic ljubodejica is from ljuby dejati "fornicate," a compound from ljuby "love" + dejati "put, perform." Russian bljad "whore" derives from Old Church Slavonic bladinica, from bladu "fornication." Polish nierządnica is literally "disorderly woman." Sanskrit vecya is a derivation of veca- "house, dwelling," especially "house of ill-repute, brothel." Another term, pumccali, means literally "one who runs after men." Avestan jahika is literally "woman," but only of evil creatures; another term is kunairi, from pejorative prefix ku- + nairi "woman."
"ancient Roman priest," 1530s, from Latin flamen "a priest of one deity," which is of unknown origin, perhaps from PIE root *bhlad- "to worship" (source also of Gothic blotan, Old English blotan "to sacrifice"). Also used from early 14c., in imitation of Geoffrey of Monmouth, in reference to ancient pre-Christian British priests. Related: Flamineous.
The old connection of flamen with Skt. brahman- is highly problematic, and has been dismissed by Schrijver. As WH surmise, the ending -en points to an archaism, probably a n[euter] noun "sacrificial act" which changed its semantics to 'priest'; for a similar shift, cf. augur "bird-observer" .... The only viable comparanda are found in [Germanic], but they show root-final (or suffixal) *-d~. [de Vaan]
16th letter of the classical Roman alphabet, occurring in English only before a -u- that is followed by another vowel (with a few exceptions; see below), whether the -u- is sounded or not (pique). The letter is from the Phoenician equivalent of Hebrew koph, qoph, which was used for the deeper and more guttural of the two "k" sounds in Semitic. The letter existed in early Greek (where there was no such distinction), and called koppa, but it was little used and not alphabetized; it mainly served as a sign of number (90).
The connection with -u- began in Latin. Anglo-Saxon scribes at first adopted the habit, but later used spellings with cw- or cu-. The qu- pattern returned to English with the Normans and French after the Conquest and had displaced cw- by c. 1300.
In some spelling variants of late Middle English, quh- also took work from wh-, especially in Scottish and northern dialects, for example Gavin Douglas, Provost of St. Giles, in his vernacular "Aeneid" of 1513:
Lyk as the rois in June with hir sueit smell
The marygulde or dasy doith excell.
Quhy suld I than, with dull forhede and vane,
With ruide engine and barrand emptive brane,
With bad harsk speche and lewit barbour tong,
Presume to write quhar thi sueit bell is rong,
Or contirfait sa precious wourdis deir?
Scholars use -q- alone to transliterate Semitic koph or the equivalent in Turkish or Iranian (as in Quran, Qatar, Iraq). In Christian theology, Q has been used since 1901 to signify the hypothetical source of passages shared by Matthew and Luke but not in Mark; in this sense probably it is an abbreviation of German Quelle "source" (from Old High German quella, from the same Proto-Germanic source as Old English cwiella, cwylla"spring; well"). In Middle English accounts, it is an abbreviation of quadrans "farthing" (mid-15c.). In Roman personal names it is an abbreviation of Quintus.