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I've been trying to find a word that describes someone that's older than a 'girl' but not yet a 'woman'. It seems the connotation of girl is an immature female that's still growing up. Whereas a woman connotes a female that's starting to settle down in life.

Other words such as lady connote delicateness. There are few other words and most of them are derogatory.

My curiosity is around the maturation of a female i.e. someone just out of college figuring life out but out of the 'girl' stage.

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Young woman –  JLG Sep 25 '12 at 16:17
    
The OneLook reverse lookup offers a long list of starting points. –  MετάEd Sep 25 '12 at 18:53
    
Also young lady, but this is sometimes viewed as patronizing or slightly sexist. –  bib Sep 25 '12 at 20:11
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@gam3: It is a bad tactic to compare women to farm animals. I advise against it. –  horatio Sep 25 '12 at 20:24
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"Older than a girl but not yet a woman?" Why, that's Britney Spears. –  RegDwigнt Sep 25 '12 at 20:34
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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There's "ingenue" which has the connotation of innocence. If you want to go less formal, there's "chick" or the latin-flavored "chica".

Finally, as a female, I can attest that it is always a badge of honor to be called a woman. :-)

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Doesn't 'woman' carry certain connotations of a female with familial responsibilities? I agree it's flattering but seems to be used at a different maturity level. However, there doesn't seem to be a word that implies someone that's careful & responsible without the implication of a family/husband. –  dasickis Sep 27 '12 at 17:52
    
@dasickis - Good question! To my understanding, in American culture today, I don't believe there is any connotation between calling someone a woman and implying any familial responsibilities. If anything, I believe the word only implies someone who is mature - no longer a youth or teen. –  Kristina Lopez Sep 27 '12 at 18:01
    
@dasickis: no, no connotation of family at all. And no connotation of middle age or older. Simply anything 18 or older. On the other hand, any woman younger than me is a girl, and any older is a woman. As to guys, it is always jarring when they mention 'the police apprehended the 21-year-old man'; the dude is barely out of his play shorts at that age. –  Mitch Oct 1 '12 at 21:04
    
@Mitch, Funny, but I have the same relative criteria for boy vs. man! (Older or younger than me?) –  Kristina Lopez Oct 1 '12 at 21:52
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@Chick@ may or may not be good depending on the sort of circles you move in. I’ve known some groups where chick was a very common and neutral term, others where it was considered sexist and belittling (both in how it was received and in how it got used). –  PLL Mar 20 at 20:54
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The term "woman" refers to a female who has reached adulthood. The term "girl" generally refers to one who has not.

That said, the word "girl" can be used loosely to refer to any female human being:

Granny was a spry old girl, well into her eighties.

And, as JLG notes in the comment above, "young woman" is often used to describe a woman who has not yet settled into adulthood. However, it can also be used to describe a teenager or even a child, and the line demarcating the lower age limit is pretty blurred. Note that the term young lady, when used as a form of direct address, is almost always in the context of a reproof of a teenager or younger, usually one's daughter or at least in one's care:

If you think you can go out before you clean your room, young lady, you've got another thing coming.

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Girl can be used loosely only with great care. Most women find it offensive to be referred to as 'girl'. –  KitFox Mar 20 at 1:40
    
Care, perhaps, but hardly great care. There is a lot of latitude between what constitutes offensive (cf. a show like Mad Men) use of the term and ordinary casual use. Hell, there's even a widely acclaimed show on HBO called Girls, even though it's about twenty-something women. –  Robusto Mar 20 at 2:45
    
I'm one woman that doesn't mind being called "girl" (in the right circumstances!) –  Kristina Lopez Mar 20 at 21:12
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It's not gender-specific, but what's wrong with adolescent? Or the more informal teen? Granted, also not gender-specific.

Oh wait, you're talking about girls in their 20s. I think you're stuck with young woman.

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As good an answer as this is for the nominal concept requested, the OP states 'just out of college' which usually does not fit 'teen'. –  Mitch Sep 25 '12 at 18:41
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Technically speaking, working girl would be a perfect fit if it wasn't for its alternate (slang) usage:

  1. young woman who has a job

  2. INFORMAL a woman who is a prostitute (=has sex with men for money)

That said, the slang usage is, as far as I know, quite dated.

A coming-of-age term is debutante:

a young woman making her formal entrance into society

Other terms such as maiden and bachelorette are also roughly in the same neighbourhood. But they have passed out of common parlance.

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Dated, but still prevalent. I hear "working girl", I think "prostitute". –  heathenJesus Sep 25 '12 at 16:55
    
"working girl" is also outdated. It was predicated on most women not working. According to census data, women are now ~48% of the full-time workforce in the US and Canada (was ~14% in the mid-60s). –  horatio Sep 25 '12 at 20:03
    
Maiden specifically refers to marital status or lack of sexual experience rather than age, e.g., my old maiden aunt. –  bib Sep 25 '12 at 20:12
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@coleopterist Ah, for the good old days. And to be fair, her marital status and level of sexual experience might not have been traditionally congruent, leading to a possible conflict in labeling. –  bib Sep 25 '12 at 20:26
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@bib heh! That reminded me of Mel Brooks' Robin Hood and Marian's "chastity belt" ;) –  coleopterist Sep 25 '12 at 20:32
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