The female equivalent of a gentleman. Not as sexist as some people like to think. A true lady is characterized by how she treats others, not how she expects others to treat her.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, lady derives from the Old English words for "hláf", loaf and "dig", to knead.

Despite what appears to be clear etymological evidence, the editors of the OED state that this is not plausible with regard to sense. Yet attempts to explain "lady" as the feminization of "lord" is problematic.

I find this difficulty on the editors' part puzzling. Why is it so difficult to comprehend the lady of the house as a kneader of loaves? It is only relatively recently in Western history (last 500 years or so?) that a man could, by his own efforts and management of resources, support idle able-bodied members of household. An idle wife was and often still is a status symbol.

Prior to this, the lady of the house was the housekeeper in a very literal sense, the household manager. She was responsible for the maintenance and distribution of the household's production. She kept inventory of the house's stores. She directed the servants in their household tasks and duties. It only makes sense, that as the lady of the house, she should take responsibility for the production of its most important food-stuff, bread. Hence, loaf-kneader, thus lady.

Had a very interesting & informative conversation with Gritchka about etymological problems of "lady". Seems OED is not the final authority. I am hoping Gritchka will summarize her findings here.
There are two related problems with the idea that Old English hlæfdíge means 'loaf kneader'. I've once more read through the OED article on lady and made notes. What they actually suggest is hláf 'loaf' + root díg- 'to knead', followed by the progression of forms (lefdi, levede, lavedi etc.), with eventual loss of v, and lady appearing in the fourteenth century, and under it this comment:
The etym. above stated is not very plausible with regard to sense; but the attempts to explain hlæfdíge as a deriv. of hláford are unsatisfactory

And then they give various good reasons why it couldn't be from hláford-íge where hláford is lord (loaf-ward; this etymology is clear), and -íge is some kind of feminine ending: because there is no such ending.

So assuming the first part of hlæfdíge is from 'loaf', what is this -díge bit? Because no such word or ending is known in the rest of the Old English language. Now Old English is known from texts, and is finite; the real Anglo-Saxon speakers must have had hundreds or even thousands of words that haven't survived on parchment, so this díge could be one of them. If it is, what does it mean?

We don't know for sure. The known words it looks closest to are those related to the idea of kneading: thus the root díg- they mention. But resembling a word meaning 'knead' doesn't make it into a word meaning 'kneader'.

For one thing, we already have that word. You know Susan Dey from The Partridge Family? The surname Dey is from the obsolete Middle English word dey, a dairymaid, and a dairy is of course a place where the dey worked. But the Old English form of dey is dæge, and originally meant not a worker with milk, but a worker with bread - with dough, which is also related (Old English dáh).

So one problem is explaining how a known word dæge could have turned into a suffix díge. There might not be any known sound shift that can explain this, and you can't just hand-wave it away as some kind of random change. The Neogrammarian principle is very strong and very well tested in phonetics of languages we know this well. We need a reason for every change. That's why the fact that it looks like the root for knead isn't enough to justify saying that it unproblematically is.

Next is the meaning. Webster 1913 below us gives all the shades of meaning of 'lady' but the OED gives them in much greater detail, with dates against each. We think of the lady of a house being the wife. We think of your good lady, and the lady being the wife of the lord, and so on. But the original Old English idea was mistress, or ruler: the mistress of the household having power over servants, and the queen of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, and the Virgin Mary. A lady was matched not with a gentleman or a husband, but with a lord. It is this exalted being who is considered relatively unlikely to soil her hands with dough. This is (presumably) why the OED contributors were reluctant to believe in the etymology.

From about 1200 the meaning spreads out, and it is then that the two common senses of 'wife' and 'high-born woman' arise. From about the time of Chaucer we get the chivalric sense of 'object of love, paramour, sweetheart'. But these extensions to what are now the familiar meanings of 'lady' shouldn't blind us to the fact that the original sense was narrower and less conducive to kneading dough.

The Old English root comes from a Proto-Indo-European *dheigh-, which has several other interesting descendants. Its primary meaning is more abstractly that of moulding. It gives the Latin root fig- which gives us figure, figment, fiction, and feign.

In Old Persian it gave a word daeza meaning 'wall'. Something walled around was pairi-daeza (cf. Greek peri-). The Greeks borrowed this word, in the form paradeisos, to describe the splendid walled gardens of the Persian kings, which is how ladies, dough, figures, and fictions are all connected to Paradise.

Lady, written and originally performed by Dennis DeYoung with Styx, was first released on the album Styx II in 1973.

After DeYoung's controversial departure/ejection from the group and subsequent settled lawsuit, the vocals are being handled by Lawrence Gowen. But while Gowan is a fine singer in his own right, most Styx fans agree that he is no DeYoung.

Lady can also be found on the compilation and live albums Best Of Styx, Extended Versions, Lady: Encore Collection, and Return To Paradise.

On July 11, 1995, DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, James Young, and Chuck and John Panozzo recorded a new version of Lady, titled Lady 95, which was included on Styx Greatest Hits.

Lady was written primarily as a tribute to DeYoung's wife and is a wonderful song. It starts off slowly, with only piano and voice. Other instruments are added as the song progresses, becoming a powerful rock ballad by the first chorus, where the others add their voices. A must for any collection of love songs.
Lady, when you're with me I'm smiling
Give me all your love
Your hands build me up when I'm sinking
Touch me and my troubles all fade
Lady, from the moment I saw you
Standing all alone
You gave all the love that I needed
So shy, like a child who has grown

'Cause you're my lady of the morning
Love shines in your eyes
Sparkling, clear, and lovely
You're my lady

Lady, turns me on when I'm lonely
Give me all your charm
Evenings when she lays down beside me
She takes me gently into her arms

Lady of the morning
Love shines in your eyes
Sparkling, clear, and lovely
You're my lady

Lady of the morning
Love shines in your eyes
Sparkling, clear, and lovely
You're my ... lady

La"dy (lA"d&ybreve;), n.; pl. Ladies (-diz). [OE. ladi, læfdi, AS. hlÆfdige, hlÆfdie; AS. hlAf loaf + a root of uncertain origin, possibly akin to E. dairy. See Loaf, and cf. Lord.]


A woman who looks after the domestic affairs of a family; a mistress; the female head of a household.

Agar, the handmaiden of Sara, whence comest thou, and whither goest thou? The which answered, Fro the face of Sara my lady.
Wyclif (Gen. xvi. 8.).


A woman having proprietary rights or authority; mistress; -- a feminine correlative of lord. "Lord or lady of high degree." Lowell.

Of all these bounds, even from this line to this, . . .
We make thee lady.


A woman to whom the particular homage of a knight was paid; a woman to whom one is devoted or bound; a sweetheart.

The soldier here his wasted store supplies,
And takes new valor from his lady's eyes.


A woman of social distinction or position. In England, a title prefixed to the name of any woman whose husband is not of lower rank than a baron, or whose father was a nobleman not lower than an earl. The wife of a baronet or knight has the title of Lady by courtesy, but not by right.


A woman of refined or gentle manners; a well-bred woman; -- the feminine correlative of gentleman.


A wife; -- not now in approved usage. Goldsmith.

7. (Zoöl.)

The triturating apparatus in the stomach of a lobster; -- so called from a fancied resemblance to a seated female figure. It consists of calcareous plates.

Ladies' man, a man who affects the society of ladies. --
Lady altar, an altar in a lady chapel. Shipley. --
Lady chapel, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. --
Lady court, the court of a lady of the manor. --
Lady crab (Zoöl.), a handsomely spotted swimming crab (Platyonichus ocellatus) very common on the sandy shores of the Atlantic coast of the United States. --
Lady fern. (Bot.) See Female fern, under Female, and Illust. of Fern. --
Lady in waiting, a lady of the queen's household, appointed to wait upon or attend the queen. --
Lady Mass, a Mass said in honor of the Virgin Mary. Shipley. Lady of the manor, a lady having jurisdiction of a manor; also, the wife of a manor lord. Lady's maid, a maidservant who dresses and waits upon a lady. Thackeray. --
Our Lady, the Virgin Mary.


© Webster 1913

La"dy, a.

Belonging or becoming to a lady; ladylike.

"Some lady trifles." Shak.


© Webster 1913

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