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[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 lord (def 4).
(initial capital letter) the Virgin Mary.
a woman who is the object of chivalrous devotion.
(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.
Sometimes Offensive. being a female:
a lady reporter.
of a lady; ladylike; feminine.
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 forms
ladyhood, noun
ladyish, adjective
ladyishly, adverb
ladyishness, noun
ladyless, adjective
Can be confused
lady, woman (see synonym study at woman)
Synonym Study
See 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. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for lady
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • At the head of the stairs they parted, Milbrey joining the lady who had waited for him.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • If it please you, lady, my master bids me say he desires your presence.

    Philothea Lydia Maria Child
  • That telegram from Coplen is concernin' of a lady—a party that was with him when he died.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • He returned at length with the message, "The lady says will you please step up-stairs."

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • Why, you'd be lady Casselthorpe, with dukes and counts takin' off their crowns to you.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
British Dictionary definitions for lady


noun (pl) -dies
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
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)
Word Origin
Old English hlǣfdīge, from hlāf bread + dīge kneader, related to dāh dough


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
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
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Word Origin and History for lady

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for lady



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

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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