"bawdy house," 1590s, shortened from brothel-house, from brothel "prostitute" (late 15c.), earlier "vile, worthless person" of either sex (14c.), from Old English broðen past participle of breoðan "deteriorate, go to ruin," from Proto-Germanic *breuthan "to be broken up," related to *breutan "to break" (see brittle). In 16c. brothel-house was confused with unrelated bordel (see bordello) and the word shifted meaning from a person to a place.