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 formsspin·ster·hood, nounspin·ster·ish, adjectivespin·ster·ish·ly, adverbspin·ster·like, 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.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for spinster


Examples from the Web for spinster

Contemporary Examples of spinster

Historical Examples of spinster

  • It would have pleased Richard best to have had her remain a spinster.

    Mistress Wilding

    Rafael Sabatini

  • “You can deal with the maid betwixt you two,” pursued the spinster.

    Clare Avery

    Emily Sarah Holt

  • Her own idea was that, if she lived long enough, she would become a spinster.

  • Spinner and spinster are the only pair of such words, which still survive.

    English Past and Present

    Richard Chevenix Trench

  • My quaint New England spinster is gone and with her all the point of my playlet.

    Jane Journeys On

    Ruth Comfort Mitchell

British Dictionary definitions for spinster



an unmarried woman regarded as being beyond the age of marriage
law (in legal documents) a woman who has never marriedCompare feme sole
(formerly) a woman who spins thread for her living
Derived Formsspinsterhood, nounspinsterish, adjective

Word Origin for spinster

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

Word Origin and History for spinster

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