Why is it "ladies and gentlemen" instead of "gentlemen and ladies"?

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"?

  • 38
    Because it's "ladies first".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 2:16
  • 4
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 5:08
  • 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
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 8:23
  • 2
    @HotLicks except "Lords and ladies" is the other way around.
    – abligh
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 8:51
  • 2
    (Besides, the correct address is "Good evening, ladies and germs.")
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 12:44

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 13
    I think politeness and order of deference is a more likely explanation. It is normally "my lords, ladies and gentlemen"
    – mgb
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 3:58
  • 7
    Women and children first and Ladies First
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 5:28
  • 1
    If it's order of deference, why not "girls and boys" instead of "boys and girls" then?
    – Gnubie
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 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). Commented Apr 27, 2016 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
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 12:59

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.


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

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

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