Advertisement
552 entries found.
Search filter: All Results 
woman (n.)

"adult female human," late Old English wimman, wiman (plural wimmen), literally "woman-man," alteration of wifman (plural wifmen) "woman, female servant" (8c.), a compound of wif "woman" (see wife) + man "human being" (in Old English used in reference to both sexes; see man (n.)). Compare Dutch vrouwmens "wife," literally "woman-man."

It is notable that it was thought necessary to join wif, a neuter noun, representing a female person, to man, a masc. noun representing either a male or female person, to form a word denoting a female person exclusively. [Century Dictionary]

The formation is peculiar to English and Dutch. Replaced older Old English wif and quean as the word for "female human being." The pronunciation of the singular altered in Middle English by the rounding influence of -w-; the plural retains the original vowel. Meaning "wife," now largely restricted to U.S. dialectal use, is attested from mid-15c.

In American English, lady is "In loose and especially polite usage, a woman" [Craigie, "Dictionary of American English"]. This peculiarity was much commented upon by English travelers; in the U.S. the custom was considered especially Southern, but the English didn't bother with nice distinctions and regarded it simply as American. "This noble word [woman], spirit-stirring as it passes over English ears, is in America banished, and 'ladies' and 'females' substituted; the one to English taste mawkish and vulgar; the other indistinctive and gross. The effect is odd." [Harriet Martineau, 1837]

Woman-hater "misogynist" is from c. 1600. Women's work, that considered appropriate to women, is from 1660s. Women's liberation is attested from 1966; women's rights is from 1840, with an isolated example in 1630s.

Related entries & more 
Advertisement
wonder woman (n.)
1912, "ideal woman, woman who seems wonderful or has wonderful qualities," from wonder (n.) + woman. The comic book superheroine debuted in DC Comics in 1941.
Related entries & more 
Advertisement
chairwoman (n.)

"woman who leads a formal meeting," 1699, from chair (n.) + woman.

Related entries & more 
laywoman (n.)
1520s, from lay (adj.) + woman; probably modeled on layman.
Related entries & more 
horsewoman (n.)
1560s, "woman who rides on horseback," from horse (n.) + woman. Compare horseman. Related: Horsewomanship (1811).
Related entries & more 
womanhood (n.)
late 14c., "condition of being a woman," also "qualities or characteristics considered natural to a woman," from woman + -hood. Meaning "women collectively" is attested from 1520s.
Related entries & more