[ley-dee] /ˈleɪ di/

noun, plural ladies.
a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken:
She may be poor and have little education, but she’s a real lady.
a woman of high social position or economic class:
She was born a lady and found it hard to adjust to her reduced circumstances.
any woman; female (sometimes used in combination):
the lady who answered the phone; a saleslady.
(used in direct address: usually offensive in the singular): Ladies and gentlemen, welcome.
Lady, out of my way, please.
The ambassador and his lady arrived late.
Slang. a female lover or steady companion.
(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).
a woman who has proprietary rights or authority, as over a manor; female feudal superior.
Compare (def 4).
(initial capital letter) the Virgin Mary.
a woman who is the object of chivalrous devotion.
(usually initial capital letter)

Sometimes Offensive. being a female:
a lady reporter.
of a lady; ; feminine.
noun (pl) -dies
a woman regarded as having the characteristics of a good family and high social position

an informal name for wife
lady of the house, the female head of the household
(history) a woman with proprietary rights and authority, as over a manor Compare lord (sense 3)
noun (pl) -dies
(in Britain) a title of honour borne by various classes of women of the peerage
my lady, a term of address to holders of the title Lady, used esp by servants
Our Lady, a title of the Virgin Mary
(archaic) an allegorical prefix for the personifications of certain qualities: Lady Luck
(mainly Brit) the term of address by which certain positions of respect are prefaced when held by women: Lady Chairman

c.1200, lafdi, lavede, from Old English hlæfdige “mistress of a household, wife of a lord,” literally “one who kneads bread,” from hlaf “bread” (see loaf) + -dige “maid,” related to dæge “maker of dough” (see dey (1); also compare lord). The medial -f- disappeared 14c. Not found outside English except where borrowed from it.

Sense of “woman of superior position in society” is c.1200; “woman whose manners and sensibilities befit her for high rank in society” is from 1861 (ladylike in this sense is from 1580s, and ladily from c.1400). Meaning “woman as an object of chivalrous love” is from early 14c. Used commonly as an address to any woman since 1890s. Applied in Old English to the Holy Virgin, hence many extended usages in plant names, place names, etc., from genitive singular hlæfdigan, which in Middle English merged with the nominative, so that lady- often represents (Our) Lady’s; e.g. ladybug. Ladies’ man first recorded 1784. Lady of pleasure recorded from 1640s.


Any woman; any grown-up female •Used increasingly since the 1970s, perhaps as a sort of response to feminism: That’s a very smart lady (1400+, US use 1890s+)

Related Terms

bag lady, fairy lady, old lady, the opera’s never over till the fat lady sings

[“Key Concepts in the INCAS Multicomputer Project”, J. Nehmer et al IEEE Trans Soft Eng SE-13(8):913-923 (Aug 1987)].


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