Some of the negative connotations of the word spinster evolved in the 19th century, when spinning-houses were used as holding cells. Women of a certain profession found out at night after a certain hour (It must be dirty- it can only be referred to in vague terminology.) were given the more productive labor of spinning flax and wool instead of being out performing lewd and lascivious acts. They were referred to as spinsters (and, incidentally, this term could also apply to men) Thus a spinster began to be associated with people of loose moral character. Interesting the way meanings change, eh?

A spinster is a woman who remains unmarried beyond the customary marriage age of her community. The term derives from the 14th century ME word spinnestere, meaning a woman who spins (e.g. yarn or thread). It is generally considered archaic, and in bad taste, to refer to a woman as a spinster.

Spin"ster (?), n. [Spin + -ster.]

1.

A woman who spins, or whose occupation is to spin.

She spake to spinster to spin it out. Piers Plowman.

The spinsters and the knitters in the sun. Shak.

2.

A man who spins.

[Obs.]

Shak.

3. Law

An unmarried or single woman; -- used in legal proceedings as a title, or addition to the surname.

If a gentlewoman be termed a spinster, she may abate the writ. Coke.

4.

A woman of evil life and character; -- so called from being forced to spin in a house of correction.

[Obs.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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