woman

woman
lady, woman
The division of usage between these two words is complex and is caught up in issues of social class. In George Meredith's Evan Harrington (1861), the heroine, Rose Jocelyn, is rhetorically asked, Would you rather be called a true English lady than a true English woman, Rose?, and it is still the case that lady denotes social standing and refinement and is the female equivalent of gentleman, whereas woman is the normal word that is generally neutral in tone but in some contexts can sound over-direct or discourteous (Which of you women is Mrs Jones?). The more affectionate connotations of lady also make it characteristic of children's language. As well as its use as a title, lady is used in certain fixed expressions, such as lady of the house, the Ladies (or Ladies', a women's public lavatory), a lady's man, and others, and in the form of address ladies and gentlemen. In AmE, though less in BrE, lady has developed an informal meaning rather like dame, both as a form of address (Where are you going, lady?) and in third-person reference (She's some lady). In designations of profession, lady now sounds impossibly condescending (as in lady doctor), and has given way to woman (as in woman doctor) although this too is now considered sexist in implying that doctors are typically male and exceptionally female (see also feminine designations). As a general rule, lady comes across as being socially and historically loaded, and the more neutral woman is preferable despite its occasional bluntness of tone.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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