Friday, 19 December 2014

Who, or more precisely, what is a Lady?

Would you refer to yourself (or, if you happen to be male, would you refer to a female) as a lady or a woman or would you rather use the term 'girl'?

I mentioned to a friend the other day that I belong to a Ladies' Bridge group. She frowned. I assured her that it was a perfectly civilised group, no glaring if one of us makes a wrong bid, no shushing if any of us get the giggles. It was social bridge with an emphasis on the word 'social'. She explained that her frown was for the name rather than the activity. It should, more accurately, be Women's Bridge.

I took this on as a challenge. What is the difference between the two and what about the word 'girl'? Should we maybe call it the Girls' Bridge group instead? 

Lady, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, can be used in many ways:
  • It means the wife of a Lord. That's not us! 
  • It can be used in a derogatory way, e.g. "Listen, lady, I've had enough of this!" Ladies who lunch started out, I believe, as a mildly insulting term implying that the ladies have nothing better to do. (I think it's an excellent activity, myself.)
  • It is used in a formal setting when welcoming ladies and gentlemen to a gathering. 
  • It can be used when referring to a young girl with attitude, e.g. "You're asking for trouble, young lady!" 
  • It is even used as a modifying term, e.g. lady doctor
But the word does not, apparently, describe a group like ours.

The OED is no more encouraging about the word 'woman':
  • It is used as a general term, e.g. women's department in a clothes shop. 
  • It can be used in a patronising way, e.g. "Pull yourself together, woman!" 
  • What really puts me off the word is the 'old woman' tag. I don't care how old I am in actual years, I will not be classed as an old woman (grumpy or otherwise) for at least another 20 years, so there! 
It would seem that our group cannot be referred to as a Women's Bridge group either.

I glanced at the definition of 'girl' with little hope for a resolution to the problem. This is what the OED said:

  • a female child, a daughter or a young woman. Sadly, we're not the latter!
And then I saw it...
  • a social female group, e.g. having lunch with the girls.
That looks like a clincher. We should, from now on, be referred to as the Girls' Bridge group but somehow I don't think it's going to catch on!


19 comments:

  1. Interesting question, and I have to admit I change depending on who I'm with, who I'm talking about and what's involved. I rarely use 'girls' these days because I know a lot of women find it offensive. I don't have trouble with 'woman' because I don't associate it with old (grumpy or otherwise). Old is your problem there, I think, not woman.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can see what you mean about some of us not liking the use of 'girls'. It's quite a minefield when you start looking into it, isn't it.
      And yes, Anne, old would appear to be my problem!!!

      Delete
    2. I refuse to be called old and will continue that way till I'm 90!

      Delete
  2. Oh no, not girls! We had a man direct our choir one week, and he talked about the men (tenors and basses) and girls (sopranos and altos). In the interval I had a quiet word, suggesting he doesn't infantalise half the choir. He didn't do it again!

    I prefer women, but will answer to ladies. But do insist on being treated as a grown-up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hadn't thought of it as infantalising our group but yes, you're quite right. I was trying to stick to the letter of the OED... but then I did say that it would never catch on!

      Delete
  3. I agree in theory, yet in usage I'll refer to my old gang in PA as "the girls" - I admit when we get together it can be a gigglefest. Women or ladies - it's all fine to me. I do think we get too hung up on labels these days. As long as your group is enjoying the session, doing good works, or having lunch - just have fun!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're quite right about just having fun, Joanne, but I couldn't resist finding out what you all thought about these 'labels'.

      Delete
  4. This was a funny post in more ways than one. I think you should stick with Ladies. With all the things that go on in this world, I say: Who cares?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Inger, that there are some pretty awful things going on in the world and that this is not an important issue in the grand scheme of things, but I do love words and this type of conflict of meanings fascinates me.

      Delete
  5. Reminds me of a joke my dad used to tell. One man said to the other "Who's that lady at the bus stop?" and the other man replies "That's no lady, that's my wife!" - well it's the way you tell it.
    Did you get my facebook message about sending the DVD?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha! A most appropriate joke for this post :-) I just investigated and your message had gone into spam. I've now replied. Thanks a lot.

      Delete
  6. Hi Ros .. I tend to go with the flow .. I really don't need Chairwoman, or Chairperson .. I'm quite happy being Chairman .. and girls I too say 'girls' at times .. and I sometimes attend Ladies who Lunch .. it's fun! Language is fascinating, but so muddling sometimes and that was an interesting to post to think about as Christmas week is looming ... cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hate chairwoman and chairperson too but I'm not sure why. Language is, indeed, fascinating, isn't it :-)

      Delete
  7. I've never referred to myself as a lady, and it always takes me aback when someone else does. Sometimes 'girl' is appropriate, but not often. Woman is the word for me. Or occasionally bitch!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gosh! I've never been called 'bitch'. Maybe it's a regional thing!

      Delete
  8. What a wonderful subject:ladies,women girls.When younger my niece answered the door for her mother saying "there is a lady at the door for you"My sister said"I do not any ladies!!"I have a male cousin who is never sure what to say.We always have a laugh when he ends up saying"people of the opposite sex to me"Also do not start me off on herstory or person hole covers!!!!!!!! Petra.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Herstory!' Yes, I'm with you on this one, Petra. It's the same with chairperson and having someone 'personning' the car park. :-)

      Delete
  9. I know that I tend to get told off for saying it, but I could never decide which of the two to use so decided to use "lass" and it kind of atuck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm, I can see that 'lass' might not always be helpful, but it's better than 'me duck' (a local Leicester phrase for those who don't know!)

      Delete

Thank you for commenting. I do love receiving comments. Your comment will be sent to me for moderation before appearing here.

If you do not have a Google account, click on the Google account box and select Anonymous. Spam comments are not accepted on this blog.