• lady •
Pronunciation: lay-dee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The female head of household, as the lady of the house. 2. A woman of considerable importance or of high esteem, as ladies and lords, Lady Windermere. 3. A polite form of address to a fashionable woman: right this way, ladies (also milady).
Notes: My wife, when she takes our granddaughters to tea, always admonishes them to be ladylike, one of many compounds based on lady. Others include ladybird (a type of beetle), ladyfinger (a type of pastry), and lady-killer, not a killer at all, but an extremely handsome man. The only derivatives this word provides is an abstract noun ladyhood, and ladyly (or ladily) "ladylike", serving as both an adjective and adverb.
In Play: The term has fallen into disrepute with the coming of feminism, but is still used as a model for proper feminine behavior by some: "A lady wouldn't pick her nose at the table!" This word is used in too many idiomatic constructions to mention here; I will mention only one: "Ladies and gentlemen! May I have your attention please. Has anyone seen my three-legged dog, Skippy?"
Word History: Old English hlæfdige "mistress of a household, wife of a lord" literally meant "one who kneads bread", from hlaf "bread" + -dige "maid". Hlaf went on to become loaf, and a relative of dige came down to us as dough. By the time this word reached Middle English it had been reduced to lafdi and the medial F disappeared in the 14th century. Lord made a similar journey. Setting out as hlafweard "bread-keeper", it was soon reduced to hlaford. This word referred to the head of a household, as opposed to a hlaf-æta, literally "bread-eater", the word in those days for "servant". As did hlafdige, this word lost the initial H and the medial F, to become lord. (We hope that there is a proper lady in the life of Tom Kopff, the contributor of today's Good Word.)