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The primary meaning of "mistress of a household" is now mostly obsolete, save for the term landlady and in set phrases such as "the lady of the house. " This meaning is retained in the southern states of the United States. The term is also used in titles such as First Lady and Lady Mayoress, the wives of elected or appointed officials. In many European languages the equivalent term serves as a general form of address equivalent to the English Mrs (French Madame, Spanish Señora, Italian Signora, German Frau, Polish Pani, etc. ). In those languages it is correct to address a woman whose name is unknown as Madame, Señora, etc. , but in polite English usage "lady" has for centuries only normally been a "term of address" in the plural, which is also the case for "gentleman". The singular vocative use was once common but has become mostly confined to poetry. In some dialects it may still be used to address an unknown woman in a brusque manner, often in an imperative or interrogatory context, analogous to "mister" for an unknown male: e. g. , "Hey, lady, you aren't allowed in here!" In this usage, the word "lady" is very seldom capitalized when written. The usual English term for politely addressing a woman is Madam or Ma'am.

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