AskDefine | Define lady

Dictionary Definition



1 a polite name for any woman; "a nice lady at the library helped me"
2 a woman of refinement; "a chauffeur opened the door of the limousine for the grand lady" [syn: dame, madam, ma'am, gentlewoman]
3 a woman of the peerage in Britain [syn: noblewoman, peeress] [ant: Lord, Lord]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Lady



From lavedi, from hlǣfdīġe, originally literally ‘loaf-kneader’.


  • /ˈleɪdi/, /"leIdi/
  • Rhymes: -eɪdi
  • Hyphenation: la·dy


  1. In the context of "Obsolete": The mistress of a household.
  2. A woman of breeding or higher class, a woman of authority.
  3. A polite term referring to a woman.
    Please direct this lady to the soft furnishings department.
  4. (ladies; in plural only) A polite form of address to women
    Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to ...
    Follow me, ladies!
    • Usage note: The equivalent form of address to one woman is madam.
  5. (ladies or ladies) Toilets intended for use by women.
  6. In the context of "familiar": An affectionate term for one's wife or girlfriend.
    But soft, what light through yonder window breaks...? It is my lady, O it is my love! -Romeo and Juliet
  7. a queen (the playing card)
mistress of a household
woman of breeding and authority
wife of a lord
polite term referring a woman
toilets intended for use by women


See also

Extensive Definition

A Lady is a woman who is the counterpart of a Lord, as opposed to lady, the counterpart of a gentleman.

Etymology and usage

The word comes from Old English hlǣfdige; the first part of the word is a mutated form of hlāf, "loaf, bread", also seen in the corresponding hlāford, "lord". The second part is usually taken to be from the root dig-, "to knead", seen also in dough; the sense development from bread-kneader, or bread-maker, or bread-shaper, to the ordinary meaning, though not clearly to be traced historically, may be illustrated by that of "lord".
The primary meaning of "mistress of a household" is now mostly obsolete, save for the occasional use of old-fashioned phrases such as "the little lady of the house." This meaning is retained, however, in the title First Lady, used for the wife of an elected president or prime minister. In many European languages the equivalent term serves as a general form of address equivalent to the English Missus usually seen as Mrs. (French Madame, Spanish Señora, Italian Signora, German Frau, Polish Pani, etc.).
The special use of the word as a title of the Virgin Mary, usually Our Lady, represents the Latin Domina Nostra. In Lady Day and Lady Chapel the word is properly a genitive, representing hlǣfdigan "of the Lady".
The word is also used as a title of the Wiccan Goddess, The Lady.

British usage

As a title of nobility the uses of "Lady" are mainly paralleled by those of "Lord". It is thus a less formal alternative to the full title giving the specific rank, of marchioness, countess, viscountess or baroness, whether as the title of the husband's rank by right or courtesy, or as the lady's title in her own right. A widow becomes the dowager, e.g. The Dowager Lady Smith.
In the case of sons of a duke or marquess, who by courtesy have "Lord" prefixed to their given and family name, the wife is known by the husband's given and family name with "The Lady" prefixed, e.g. The Lady John Smith. The daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls are by courtesy Ladies; here that title is prefixed to the given and family name of the lady, e.g. The Lady Jane Smith, and this is preserved if the lady marries a commoner, e.g. Mr John and The Lady Jane Smith. The predicate 'The' should be used prior to "The Lady" or "Lord" in all cases, except after a divorce for women who do not hold the courtesy title of "Lady" in their own right, e.g. Heather, Lady McCartney or Jane, Lady Smith (the ex-wife of The Lord John Smith); cf Diana, Princess of Wales, that lady's final title after her divorce.
"Lady" is also the customary title of the wife of a baronet or knight. The proper title, now only used in legal documents or on sepulchral monuments, is "Dame". In the latter case, "Dame" is prefixed to the given name of the wife followed by the surname of the husband, thus Dame Jane Smith, but in the former, "Lady" with the surname of the husband only, Sir John and The Lady Smith. When a woman divorces a knight and he marries again, the new wife will be The Lady Smith while the ex-wife becomes Jane, The Lady Smith. If a knight dies, his widow becomes Dowager Lady Smith (no the).
During the 15th and 16th centuries princesses or daughters of the blood royal were usually known by their first names with "The Lady" prefixed, e.g. The Lady Elizabeth; since Anglo-Saxon did not have a female equivalent to princes or earls or other royals or nobles, aside from the queen, women of royal and noble status simply carried the title of "Lady".

More recent usage: social class

In more recent years, usage of the word the lady is even more complicated. Journalist William Allen White noted one of the difficulties in his 1946 autobiography. He relates that a woman who had paid a fine for prostitution came to his newspaper to protest, not that the fact of her conviction was reported, but that the newspaper had referred to her as a "woman" rather than a "lady." Since that incident, White assured his readers, his papers referred to human females as "women", with the exception of police court characters, who were all "ladies".
White's anecdote touches on a phenomenon that others have remarked on as well. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, in a difference reflected in Nancy Mitford's essay "U vs. non-U", lower class women strongly preferred to be called "ladies" while women from higher social backgrounds were content to be identified as "women." Alfred Ayers remarked in 1881 that upper middle class female store clerks were content to be "saleswomen," while lower class female store clerks, for whom their job represented a social advancement, indignantly insisted on being called "salesladies." Something of this sense may also be underneath Kipling's lines:
The Colonel's lady and Rosie O'Grady —
Sisters under the skin
These social class issues, while no longer on the front burner in the twenty-first century, have imbued the formal use of "lady" with something of an odour of irony (e.g: "my cleaning lady").
It remains in use colloquially, for example, as a counterpart to "gentleman," in the phrase "ladies and gentlemen," and is generally interchangeable (in a strictly informal sense) with "woman" (as in, "The lady at the store said I could return this item within thirty days."). "Ladies" is also the normal text on the signs to any female toilet in a public place in the UK, again paired with "Gentlemen" (or "Gents").

More recent usage: sexism (US)

Non-sexist language guidelines forbid its use to refer attributively to the sex of a working person, as in lady lawyer and lady doctor. Many find these to have a condescending nuance not shared by female lawyer or woman doctor; compare poetess for a similar problem.
Advocates of non-sexist language recommend not using the word at all, whereas others permit its parallel use in the same circumstances in which a man would be called a gentleman or lord (for example, titling washrooms Men and Ladies would be considered sexist, but using either Men and Women or Ladies and Gentlemen would be acceptable; as is landlady as the parallel of landlord.)
In the United States, notably among younger feminists of the 1990s and 00s influenced by riot grrl, "lady" has occasionally been reclaimed in a more ironic fashion. For example, Miranda July's Joanie 4 Jackie chain letter videotape project is said to consist of "lady-made movies," a feminist music and video distributor in North Carolina called itself Mr. Lady Records, and chorus of Le Tigre's song "LT Tour Theme" from the album Feminist Sweepstakes (2000) declares itself to be written "for the ladies and the fags." There are also worldwide feminist music and art festivals which the young feminists call ladyfests.

Ladies in fiction


  • Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Merriam-Webster, 1989), ISBN 0-87779-132-5.
lady in Breton: Itron
lady in Welsh: Arglwyddes
lady in German: Lady
lady in French: Lady
lady in Manx: Benchiarn
lady in Scottish Gaelic: Bantiarna
lady in Scottish Gaelic: Baintighearna
lady in Cornish: Arloedhes
lady in Norwegian: Lady
lady in Russian: Дама
lady in Swedish: Kvinna av stånd
lady in Portuguese: Lady
~Lady Portia Herrington Briggs in Tyne O'Connell's Calypso Chronicles Series.

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Eminence, Grace, Her Excellency, Her Highness, Her Ladyship, Her Majesty, Highness, His Lordship, His Majesty, Honor, Imperial Highness, Imperial Majesty, Ladyship, Lord, Lordship, Majesty, My Lady, My Lord, Reverence, Royal Highness, Royal Majesty, Serene Highness, Worship, Your Lordship, milady, milordDulcinea, Eve, Frau, Fraulein, Miss, Mistress, Mlle, Mme, Mmes, acceptable person, archduchess, baroness, best girl, better half, capital fellow, common-law wife, concubine, countess, dame, daughter of Eve, diamond, distaff, domina, dona, donna, dowager, dream girl, duchess, faithful, feme, feme covert, femme, frow, galantuomo, gem, gentilhomme, gentleman, gentlewoman, gill, girl, girl friend, good fellow, good lot, good man, good person, good sort, good woman, goodwife, goody, grand duchess, helpmate, helpmeet, honest man, honest woman, inamorata, jewel, jill, jo, khanum, lady love, lass, lassie, madam, madame, mademoiselle, man of honor, marchioness, margravine, married woman, matron, mem-sahib, mensch, mesdames, milady, mistress, noblewoman, old lady, old woman, pearl, peeress, perfect gentleman, perfect lady, persona grata, prince, real lady, real man, rib, right sort, rough diamond, senhora, senhorita, signora, signorina, squaw, straight shooter, true blue, truepenny, trusty, viscountess, vrouw, wahine, weaker vessel, wedded wife, wife, woman, woman of honor, worthy
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1