Etymology of a Lady

Apparently there’s a bloggy soiree about the term “lady” and its many uses. This is not a new discourse, certainly, but one that pops up now and again. As offensive as the term, “lady,” can be to women — not all women, but some — the term is one that requires a little explanation so that its more offensive overtones might be understood by offenders unaware. Here’s a quick primer.




Etymology of a Lady in Sentence Form

by Rae Bryant and

la⋅dy [ley-dee] noun, plural –dies
. . . dies, need I say more?

1. “a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken”

Could you please pass me another lady, gentlemen, the first one was a little too tough for my tastes.

2. “a woman of high social position or economic class”

Being a lady is a congenital trait. One is born into it like a horse is born to good breeding.

3. “any woman; female (sometimes used in combination)”

The lady on the phone said something about voting and equal pay for equal work. I wonder if her husband knows she speaks of such things.

4. “[term] used in direct address: often offensive in the singular”

Grab me a beer, will ya, little lady?

5. “a female lover or steady companion”

The governor and his lady friend attended the party. The governor’s wife was furious.

6. “(initial capital letter) (in Great Britain) the proper title of any woman whose husband is higher in rank than baronet or knight, or who is the daughter of a nobleman not lower than an earl (although the title is given by courtesy also to the wives of baronets and knights)”

Lady Ashton wasn’t really a lady, after all, and so she might have been considered a knight if such considerations could be paid to the female persuasion.

7. “a woman who has proprietary rights or authority, as over a manor; female feudal superior. Compare lord”

The Lady now oversees the manor until, of course, her Lord arrives home from the war.

8. “(initial capital letter) the Virgin Mary”

An image of the Lady had been seen in an oil spill just yesterday in Gary, Indiana, along with the Music Man and a cheeky little unicorn named Bob.

9. “a woman who is the object of chivalrous devotion”

A lady in all situations will hold her flatulence and her tongue, offering either only when requested.

10. “(usually initial capital letter) an attribute or abstraction personified as a woman; a designation of an allegorical figure as feminine: Lady Fortune; Lady Virtue”

Ah, Lady Virtue. She is the beacon by which all women measure their worth, and the stick with which all women are to be beaten should they fall short.

11. “a title prefixed to the name of a goddess: Lady Venus “

Lady Venus, the most beautiful and alluring of goddesses, may she reign in the hearts of men.

“Origin: bef. 900; ME ladi(e), earlier lavedi, OE hlǣfdīge, hlǣfdige, perh. orig. meaning “loaf-kneader,” equiv. to hlāf loaf + -dīge, -dige, var. of dǣge kneader (see dough; cf. ON deigja maid); see lord”

Since I am not a loaf kneading maid, an object to pass around the gentlemen’s table, a British socialite, a holy deity, or a female “companion” to an ambassador, I must not be a lady. I can live with that and so can my “lord.” Wink.


With all this said, I must say that I usually do  not take public offense to the attribution, but rather find the attribution to be more a relic, most often, an antiquated title, and I generally ignore its offense unless the usage is made by someone who obviously seeks to offend, which I do not believe is the recent case. To most, I usually raise an eyebrow, chalk it up to lack of knowing, and move on with my day; otherwise, my day might consist of nothing else than educating the masses on proper addresses of women post-Victorian.