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Is there a male equivalent of "damsel" ?

damsel (dam·sel)
Pronunciation: /ˈdamzəl/

noun archaic or literary
   a young unmarried woman.

(from OxfordDictionaries.com)

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5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think the male counterpart would be bachelor. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that the "Meaning evolved from "knight in training" to "young unmarried man" (early 14c.)"

Note that in modern English the word bachelor can still refer to an unmarried man (although not necessarily a young one).

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2  
Hmmm... Though "bachelor in distress" doesn't quite sound as good as "damsel in distress" –  Orion Nov 29 '11 at 23:11
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Actually, it sounds quite amusing to me... –  mickeyf Nov 30 '11 at 0:56
    
@Bjorn: If so, then what about spinster? –  Kris Nov 30 '11 at 10:59
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@NullUserException "Damsel in distress" sounds good because of the alliteration. Perhaps you need someone to coin a phrase such as "Bachelor without bravado" –  Bringer128 Dec 6 '11 at 6:46
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I would suggest "bachelor in a bind" myself, to go with the "in trouble" theme. –  Joe Z. Mar 26 at 16:44

A damsel implies a young lady of noble birth or a maiden. The word comes from the French Damoiselle (not in use nowadays, it has a strong Middle-Ages flavour).

The male equivalent of a damoiselle in French is damoiseau. And damoiseau has an entry in both the OED and wiktionary.

Quoting the OED :

Damoiseau : [a. OF. damoiseau the masculine corresp. to damoisel, damsel.] A young man of gentle birth, not yet made a knight. (Occurring in 15th c. translations from French, and in modern archaists.)

If we do not want to use damoiseau in English, the nearest male equivalent seems the lad indeed, the word lad sounding (at least to me) slightly outdated. Lass (feminine of lad) is also given by the OED as a synonym of damsel.

@prash : Damsel doesn't imply that the young lady is in distress. Unless specified to be in distress, of course ! A damsel in distress is a literary theme that goes way back into Antiquity and revived in the middle-ages.

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Damoiselle is, of course, in use nowadays with the prefix "ma-". –  Peter Taylor Nov 30 '11 at 13:22
    
I did not draw any such implication. I was adding to the comment made by NullUserException: 'Though "bachelor in distress" doesn't quite sound as good as "damsel in distress"'. Perhaps I should have added my comment below his to prevent confusion. –  prash Nov 30 '11 at 13:39
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@Peter Taylor. Madamoiselle has never been used in French. We use mademoiselle (as a title) or demoiselle (as lady). Damoiselle, although derived from the same latin root is perceived nowadays as an entirely different word. –  Laure Nov 30 '11 at 15:23

Wight is a near-equivalent, going by the dictionary. The problem is that damsel has heavy connotations of pretty but useless, and (obviously) there are no men who could be described so.

Edit: the word is Anglo-Saxon, and since man means pretty much the same, wight was never very common. Chambers defines it as "man (archaic or dialect): supernatural being (obs)", the only use I can think of that is not for self-conscious effect (or sub-Tolkien) is Hardy's 'In Time of the Breaking of Nations': "a maid and her wight/ come whispering by".

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Tim, which dictionary did you use? The only meaning of wight I'm familiar with is the one of a supernatural being. –  Bjorn Nov 29 '11 at 23:28
    
"Wight" reminds me of the wights from George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" –  Orion Nov 29 '11 at 23:29
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wight noun [usu. with adj. ] archaic or dialect. a person of a specified kind, esp. one regarded as unfortunate : he always was an unlucky wight. –  GEdgar Nov 30 '11 at 1:26

I'd go with lad because it seems to be used in similar kinds of discourse. The trouble is that "a lad in distress" sounds like "Aladdin distress".

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A lad as generally perceived would be too young to be in any real distress. –  Kris Nov 30 '11 at 10:55
    
@Kris: Nope. "Lad" includes young men. And age has nothing to do with distress. –  prash Nov 30 '11 at 13:34

It's amusing to note that, according to Wordnik, damsel also applies to a young gentleman:

damsel: A titular designation of a young gentleman; a young man of gentle or noble birth: as, damsel Pepin; damsel Richard, Prince of Wales.

Even when damsel wasn't an archaic term, young gentleman was the best equivalent, as in the title of the Thomas Rowlandson painting "A college green with a group of damsels and young gentlemen in the foreground, c.1810-15."

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I like the idea of a damsel being a young male, even if pretty and useless. It could have its uses in sarcasm, maybe. –  Kris Nov 30 '11 at 10:58
    
Also, there were (are?) damsels-errant, which could have some unfortunate connotations. –  Gnawme Nov 30 '11 at 18:26

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