n. pl. la·dies
1. A woman of high social standing or refinement, especially when viewed as dignified or well-mannered.
2. A woman who is the head of a household: Is the lady of the house at home?
a. A woman, especially when spoken of or to in a polite way: Ladies, may I show you to your table?
b. Used as a form of address for a woman, often with sarcasm or irritation: Look, lady, I was ahead of you in line.
a. A woman who is the object of romantic or chivalrous love: a knight serving his lady.
b. Informal A wife or girlfriend: a man kissing his lady at the airport.
5. A lady in waiting: the queen and her ladies.
6. Lady Chiefly British
a. A general feminine title of nobility and other rank, specifically as the title for the wife or widow of a knight or baronet.
b. Used as a form of address for a woman of high rank, especially for a marchioness, countess, viscountess, baroness, or baronetess.
7. Lady The Virgin Mary. Usually used with Our.
[Middle English, mistress of a household, from Old English hlǣfdige; see dheigh- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: The word lady goes back to Old English and was traditionally used for a woman of social standing or rank. Perhaps because of the word's association with high society, today lady is most acceptable in parallel with gentleman, as in the sentences Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please! and At the opera for the first time, they were dazzled by all of the ladies in ball gowns and gentlemen in sharp tuxedos. This latter sentence was approved by 91 percent of the Usage Panel in our 2016 survey. By contrast, the sentence Nancy Brown will be the first lady to serve as chair of the committee was accepted by only 29 percent of the Panel, with many panelists commenting that the use of lady where woman would easily do can be taken as offensive. The degree to which lady is or isn't considered offensive has become dependent on context. When presented with a range of sentences using lady in formal and informal contexts with both male and female speakers, many members of the Panel stated that they found lady to be acceptable and inoffensive when used ironically or jocularly. · The use of lady as an attributive to modify another noun, as in the phrase lady doctor, is widely considered offensive. When the sex of the person is relevant, the preferred modifier is woman or female. See Usage Note at female.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.