girl

[ gurl ]
/ gɜrl /

noun

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Origin of girl

First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English gurle, girle, gerle “child, young person”; compare Old English gyrela, gi(e)rela “item of dress, apparel” (presumably worn by the young in the late Old English period, and hence used as a metonym)

usage note for girl

Some adult women are offended if referred to as a girl, or informally, a gal. However, a group of adult female friends often refer to themselves as the girls, and their “girls night out” implies the company of adult females. Also, a woman may express camaraderie by addressing another woman as girl, as in You go, girl! or Attagirl!
Referring to one's female office assistant or housekeeper as the girl or my girl, once in common use, is now considered unacceptable. Working girl, meaning “a woman who works,” girl/gal Friday, meaning “a female office assistant,” and other occupational terms such as career girl and college girl, are also dated and often perceived as insulting. Working girl as a slang term meaning “a prostitute” is sometimes used by female prostitutes as a euphemistic self-reference. See also lady, woman.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

BEHIND THE WORD

Where does the word girl come from?

The word girl, meaning “a female child,” originally meant any “child” or “young person,” regardless of gender. Girl, for “child,” is recorded around 1250–1300.

However, the original source of the word is uncertain. Scholars point to Old English words like gyrela, “an item of dress, apparel,” presumably of a type worn by and popular with a young person back then.

Guess what other word has obscure roots? Boy. Discover why in our slideshow “‘Dog,’ ‘Boy,’ And Other Words That We Don’t Know Where They Came From.”

Did you know … ?

While it is usually used to mean “female child,” the word girl is also sometimes used in reference to young adult or adult women, such as in girl bands or a girlfriend. Parents also use the word girls for their daughters of any age.

While it is often used in a similar manner to its male counterpart boy, the word girl can have sexist implications that boy does not—although boy has its own racist past. For example, the idea of “a boy acting like a girl” is often used as a sexist or even anti-gay insult that doesn’t have an exact equivalent in “a girl acting like a boy.” The word tomboy, in fact, can often carry a positive connotation.

Similarly, referring to adult women as girls can have demeaning or sexist implications that aren’t always as prevalent when using boy to refer to an adult man (e.g., “Boys will be boys”).

That said, please note that referring to a Black adult man or other male members of minority groups as boy is racist.

Example sentences from the Web for girl

British Dictionary definitions for girl

girl
/ (ɡɜːl) /

noun

Word Origin for girl

C13: of uncertain origin; perhaps related to Low German Göre boy, girl

usage for girl

The use of girl as in meaning 4, to refer to a woman of any age, is highly likely to be considered old-fashioned or to cause offence
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