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[spin-ster] /ˈspɪn stər/
Disparaging and Offensive. a woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marrying.
Chiefly Law. a woman who has never married.
a woman whose occupation is spinning.
Origin of spinster
1325-75; Middle English spinnestere a woman who spins. See spin, -ster
Related forms
spinsterhood, noun
spinsterish, adjective
spinsterishly, adverb
spinsterlike, adjective
Usage note
The meaning “a woman beyond the usual marriageable age” is used with disparaging intent and perceived as insulting. It implies negative qualities such as being fussy or undesirable. See also old maid. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for spinsterhood
Historical Examples
  • Miss Priest was no "spin" lingering on in spinsterhood against her will.

  • Or do you look forward to spinsterhood in a cottage with a canary?

    Scarlet and Hyssop E. F. Benson
  • There was no doubt his friendship had saved her from the worst perils of spinsterhood.

  • She told me once that she was confident my nose was the cause of my spinsterhood.

  • And later on, when she came to be boss, she still kept to spinsterhood.

    A Master of Fortune

    Cutcliffe Hyne
  • Six months ago, I yearned to have her as a prop for my spinsterhood, but that Dark Age is about to be folded by.

    Jane Journeys On Ruth Comfort Mitchell
  • An elderly female relative, who has been dragging her spinsterhood about these—how many years shall we say?

    The Virginians William Makepeace Thackeray
  • It was evidently Miss Hathaway's treasure box, put away in the attic when spinsterhood was confirmed by the fleeting years.

    Lavender and Old Lace Myrtle Reed
  • India and the colonies may absorb a good many, though these places also do duty in the absorption of spinsterhood.

  • And the generations crowded one against another; a girl worried about spinsterhood if she reached seventeen unwed.

    Adaptation Dallas McCord Reynolds
British Dictionary definitions for spinsterhood


an unmarried woman regarded as being beyond the age of marriage
(law) (in legal documents) a woman who has never married Compare feme sole
(formerly) a woman who spins thread for her living
Derived Forms
spinsterhood, noun
spinsterish, adjective
Word Origin
C14 (in the sense: a person, esp a woman, whose occupation is spinning; C17: a woman still unmarried): from spin + -ster
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 spinsterhood



mid-14c., "female spinner of thread," from Middle English spinnen (see spin) + -stere, feminine suffix. Spinning commonly done by unmarried women, hence the word came to denote "an unmarried woman" in legal documents from 1600s to early 1900s, and by 1719 was being used generically for "woman still unmarried and beyond the usual age for it."

Spinster, a terme, or an addition in our Common Law, onely added in Obligations, Euidences, and Writings, vnto maids vnmarried. [John Minsheu, "Ductor in Linguas," 1617]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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