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lady

[ley-dee]
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noun, plural la·dies.
  1. a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken: She may be poor and have little education, but she's a real lady.
  2. a woman of high social position or economic class: She was born a lady and found it hard to adjust to her reduced circumstances.
  3. any woman; female (sometimes used in combination): the lady who answered the phone; a saleslady.
  4. (used in direct address: usually offensive in the singular): Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Lady, out of my way, please.
  5. wife: The ambassador and his lady arrived late.
  6. Slang. a female lover or steady companion.
  7. (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).
  8. a woman who has proprietary rights or authority, as over a manor; female feudal superior.Compare lord(def 4).
  9. (initial capital letter) the Virgin Mary.
  10. a woman who is the object of chivalrous devotion.
  11. (usually initial capital letter)
    1. an attribute or abstraction personified as a woman; a designation of an allegorical figure as feminine: Lady Fortune; Lady Virtue.
    2. a title prefixed to the name of a goddess: Lady Venus.
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adjective
  1. Sometimes Offensive. being a female: a lady reporter.
  2. of a lady; ladylike; feminine.
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Origin of lady

before 900; Middle English ladi(e), earlier lavedi, Old English hlǣfdīge, hlǣfdige, perhaps orig. meaning “loaf-kneader,” equivalent to hlāf loaf1 + -dīge, -dige, variant of dǣge kneader (see dough; compare Old Norse deigja maid); see lord
Related formsla·dy·hood, nounla·dy·ish, adjectivela·dy·ish·ly, adverbla·dy·ish·ness, nounla·dy·less, adjective
Can be confusedlady woman (see synonym study at woman)

Usage note

In the meanings “refined, polite woman” and “woman of high social position” the noun lady is the parallel of gentleman. As forms of address, both nouns are used in the plural ( Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your cooperation ), but only lady occurs in the singular. Except in chivalrous, literary, or similar contexts ( Lady, spurn me not ), this singular is now usually perceived as rude or at least insensitive: Where do you want the new air conditioner, lady? Although lady is still found in phrases or compounds referring to occupation or the like ( cleaning lady; saleslady ), this use seems to be diminishing. The use of lady as a modifier ( lady doctor; lady artist ) suggests that it is unusual to find a woman in the role specified. Many women are offended by this use, and it too is becoming less common.
An approach that is increasingly followed is to avoid specifying the sex of the performer or practitioner. Person or a sex-neutral term can be substituted for lady, as cleaner for cleaning lady and sales associate or salesclerk for saleslady. When circumstances make it relevant to specify sex, woman rather than lady is used, the parallel term being man: Men doctors outnumber women doctors on the hospital staff by more than three to one. See also -person, -woman.

Synonym study

See woman.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for ladies

ladies

ladies' room

noun
  1. (functioning as singular) informal a women's public lavatory
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lady

noun plural -dies
  1. a woman regarded as having the characteristics of a good family and high social position
    1. a polite name for a woman
    2. (as modifier)a lady doctor
  2. an informal name for wife
  3. lady of the house the female head of the household
  4. history a woman with proprietary rights and authority, as over a manorCompare lord (def. 3)
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Word Origin

Old English hlǣfdīge, from hlāf bread + dīge kneader, related to dāh dough

Lady

noun plural -dies
  1. (in Britain) a title of honour borne by various classes of women of the peerage
  2. my lady a term of address to holders of the title Lady, used esp by servants
  3. Our Lady a title of the Virgin Mary
  4. archaic an allegorical prefix for the personifications of certain qualitiesLady Luck
  5. mainly British the term of address by which certain positions of respect are prefaced when held by womenLady Chairman
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for ladies

n.

plural of lady (q.v.).

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lady

n.

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper