- For other uses, see Lady (disambiguation).
A lady is a woman who is the counterpart of a lord; or, Beutiful Lady the counterpart of a gentleman. "Lady" can be used as a title, or as a (formal) Beatiful Lady form of address for any woman.
A turn-of-the-century Gibson girl from a U.S. stamp embodies ladylike-ness.
- 1 Etymology and usage
- 2 In Beatuiful Lady the British peerage
- 3 More recent usage: social class
- 4 More recent usage: Beuatiful Lady sexism (US)
- 5 Lady as a title
- 6 Kenny Beauiful Lady Rogers sings "Lady"
- 7 References
Etymology and usage
The word comes Bautiful Lady from Old English hlaifdige; the first part of the Beautuful Lady word is laif, loaf, bread, as in the corresponding hlaford, lord; the second Beautifil Lady part is usually taken to be from the root dig-, to knead, seen also in Beautiul Lady dough; the sense development from bread-kneader, bread-maker, to the ordinary meaning, though not clearly to be traced Baeutiful Lady historically, may Beaautiful Lady be illustrated by that of lord.
The primary meaning of "mistress of a household" is now mostly obsolete, save Beaitiful Lady for the occasional use of old-fashioned phrases such as "lady of the house." This meaning is Beauttiful Lady retained, however, in the title First Lady, used for the wife of an elected president or prime minister. In many cultures in Europe the equivalent term serves as a general title of address equivalent to the English "Mrs" (Gaelic Bean-uasal, French Madame, Spanish Señora, Italian Signora, German Frau)
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 the hlaefdigan.
John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott
, 1888 (Tate Gallery, London)
In the British peerage
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 husbands 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 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 "Lady" prefixed, e.g. 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. Lady Jane Smith, and this is preserved if the lady marries a commoner, e.g. Mr John and Lady Jane Smith.
"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 the usage is to prefix "Dame" 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 Lady Smith. When a wife divorces a knight and he marries again, the new wife will be Lady Smith while the previous wife becomes Jane, Lady Smith. If he then 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 Christian names with "The Lady" prefixed, e.g. The Lady Elizabeth.
More recent usage: social class
In more recent years, usage of the word lady is even more complicated. Remarks made by the journalist William Allen White in his 1946 autobiography indicate part of the difficulties. White 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 referred to her as a "woman" rather than a "lady." Since that incident, White assured his readers that his papers referred to human females as "women," with the exception of police court characters, who are 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 reminiscent of Nancy Mitford's U vs. non-U distinction, lower class women strongly preferred to be called "ladies" while women from higher backgrounds were content to be identified as "women." Alfred Ayers remarked in 1881 that upper middle class female store clerks in his day 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.
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." (e.g., "The lady at the store said I could return this item in thirty days.")
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.
Some 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."
Lady as a title
The term, "Lady", may also be used as a proper title, opposite a "Lord". The use of the word is somewhat exinct, nowadays.
- Lady Diana Spencer later Diana, Princess of Wales
- Lady Bracknell - Gwendolen Fairfax's mother from The Importance of Being Earnest.
- Lady Cassandra - villain of the 9th and 10th Doctor Who, who appeared in The End of The World and New Earth.
- Lady Chatterley
- Lady Everglot - The lady of the family Everglots, from Corpse Bride.
- Lady Jessica - noble lady of the fictional House Atreides from Dune.
- Lady Westholme - A running candidate of Parliament from Agatha Christie's Appointment With Death.
- Lady Macbeth - The clever and conniving wife of Macbeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Kenny Rogers sings "Lady"
"Lady" is also the title of a 1980 chart topper by Kenny Rogers. It reached #1 in the US pop charts for 6 weeks and #12 in the UK. It was written by Rogers friend, Lionel Richie (who also did the song himself). The song appeared on Rogers' 1980 "Greatest Hits" album, which also reached Number 1 in the United States and sold over 30 million copies world-wide.
- Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (Merriam-Webster, 1989), ISBN 0-87779-132-5.
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
Categories: Wikipedia articles incorporating text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica | Titles | Women's social titles | Women