Origins of Common Words - Lady

About the history, origins, and definitions of the common word lady.


Lady - The first lady was the family breadkneader, from Anglo-Saxon hlaefdige (half, "loaf," plus dig-, "to knead"). She was mistress of the household and had her conjugal counterpart in her lord (hlaford, "loaf ward") who, symbolically at least, guarded the loaf she had kneaded. By the Middle Ages, a wife of position had turned over the bread making to servants, but she remained their lady (and that of her knight as well). In the 17th century the term referred simultaneously to a woman of superior position in society and to a prostitute (Pepys refers to a certain notorious "Lady Bennet and her ladies" who went about "dancing naked, and all the roguish things in the world"). Since then, aside from its particular appellation to wives and daughters of English nobility, the word has become gradually more vague, often used simply as a polite euphemism for "woman," and as such is much derided by contemporary feminists.

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