21

Is there a specific reason for this? After all, it is "boys and girls", rather than "girls and boys". If the boy (male) comes first here, why doesn't it come first in "ladies and gentlemen"?

marked as duplicate by Mari-Lou A, user140086, Hot Licks, cobaltduck, Rory Alsop Apr 27 '16 at 18:42

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 37
    Because it's "ladies first". – Hot Licks Apr 27 '16 at 2:16
  • 4
  • 2
    It's not universally "boys and girls" (ngram has 4:1 "b&G":"g&b" in 2000, peak of 16:1 in the 30s). The pattern is rather different for "ladies and gentlemen": diverging rather than converging. – Chris H Apr 27 '16 at 8:23
  • 2
    @HotLicks except "Lords and ladies" is the other way around. – abligh Apr 27 '16 at 8:51
  • 2
    (Besides, the correct address is "Good evening, ladies and germs.") – Hot Licks Apr 27 '16 at 12:44
67

It probably has to do with the phonetic and metrical properties of "ladies and gentlemen" versus "gentlemen and ladies." Say them both out loud and see which one sounds better to you, intuitively.

The metrical pattern of "ladies and gentlemen" consists of (arguably) two dactyls. A dactyl is a group of three syllables where the first is stressed and the second two are unstressed. When these occur in succession, they are pleasant to the ear.

  • ladies and gentlemen
  • DUM da da / DUM da da

The metrical pattern of "gentlemen and ladies" falls into a much less regular pattern. It is less pleasant to the ear. It is something like a stressed syllable followed by three unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.

  • gentlemen and ladies
  • DUM da da da DUM da

Our language tends to organize itself according to regular and pleasant stress patterns. My guess is that is why we feel more drawn to "ladies and gentlemen" than "gentlemen and ladies" and why the former has conventionalized.

  • 12
    I think politeness and order of deference is a more likely explanation. It is normally "my lords, ladies and gentlemen" – mgb Apr 27 '16 at 3:58
  • 7
    Women and children first and Ladies First – Mari-Lou A Apr 27 '16 at 5:28
  • 1
    If it's order of deference, why not "girls and boys" instead of "boys and girls" then? – Gnubie Apr 27 '16 at 10:52
  • @Gnubie: In that example it could still be argued that the this deference doesn't extent to children, 'lords and ladies' thus seems a more reasonable counter example (albeit less common). – David Mulder Apr 27 '16 at 11:33
  • 3
    @DavidMulder Also, 'lords and ladies' balances the stressed / unstressed syllables much better than the alternative. It seems like the perfect counter example. – Lacklub Apr 27 '16 at 12:59
12

It comes from "My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen". Titled men come first (My Lords); then their spouses [My] Ladies; Ladies also include non-titled ladies; and finally, untitled men (Gentlemen). Debretts, Preamble Precedents

The following list gives the form in which important guests should be included in a preamble in order of precedence:

Your Royal Highness

My Lord Mayor (My Lord Provost, etc) See (i)

Mr Recorder (outside London)

Mr Chairman of the ...... County Council (outside Greater London)

My Lord Chancellor

Prime Minister (or, more formally, Mr. Prime Minister). See (ii)

Your Excellency (ies) (this refers to Ambassadors and High Commissioners)

Your Grace(s). See (iii)

My Lord(s). See (iv)

Ladies and Gentlemen. See (v)

If you want to know what the footnotes (i) through (v) say, so you will be absolutely correct at your next speech, click on the link.

8

Ladies first. To quote something I had drilled into me from childhood: when serving,

  • visiting ladies
  • home ladies
  • visiting gentlemen
  • home gentlemen
  • yourself.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.