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I have been wondering about this little problem for a while now. Everyone understands that, in the binary, the opposite of 'man' is 'woman', and the opposite of 'gentleman' is, namely, 'gentlewoman'.

However, from what I can tell, there seems to be no word that refers to the opposite gender of the word 'lady'. Any ideas?

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    Gentlewoman is archaic. I am sure you have heard "Ladies and gentlemen" being said...
    – fev
    Jul 19, 2023 at 8:23
  • @fev that's a very good point, thanks for the example.
    – Insatiable
    Jul 19, 2023 at 8:25
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    @fev: "Gentlewoman" is still in active use in the United States Congress.
    – Dan
    Jul 19, 2023 at 21:55
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    Note the start of some speeches: "Ladies and gentlemen", and in the correct context "My lords, ladies and gentlemen"
    – Henry
    Jul 20, 2023 at 10:02
  • Use of the word Gentlewoman in the US Congress ... english.stackexchange.com/questions/390406/…
    – MT1
    Jul 21, 2023 at 5:53

2 Answers 2

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+50

Etymologically, the male counterpart of lady is lord. Idiomatically, it is gentleman.

Lady comes from an Old English compound noun meaning roughly "loaf kneader," whereas lord comes from a compound noun meaning "loaf keeper" or "loaf protector."

The etymological counterpart of gentleman, which is indeed gentlewoman, is used infrequently these days, usually in historical or quasi-historical contexts.

This is a good example of the etymological fallacy: you often cannot determine what a word means today by looking into its origins.

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    This is interesting but some references would be good, either to the books you consulted or etymology online
    – Stuart F
    Jul 19, 2023 at 9:42
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    +1 for the last sentence especially. Sometimes the original meaning of a word can be the exact or near opposite of it's current meaning. 'Egregious' is a good example.
    – JimmyJames
    Jul 19, 2023 at 17:24
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    @JimmyJames "Awful" is another good example
    – DJMcMayhem
    Jul 19, 2023 at 19:59
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    @DJMcMayhem Yes, agreed. Although your response made me notice that I used the wrong form of 'its' on an English forum so now I kind of hate myself.
    – JimmyJames
    Jul 19, 2023 at 20:50
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    @phoog thank you for such a concise answer! I suppose a common example of this lord/lady usage is when we talk about a "landlord" or "landlady"..
    – Insatiable
    Jul 20, 2023 at 12:51
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Gentleman.

In addition to 'lord', as pointed out by phoog's excellent answer, there is another male counterpart to the appellation of 'lady': 'gentleman'. Both of these titles refered to members of the petty nobility, which gradually came to refer to members of the well-mannered upper class in general: a wealthy man was a gentleman, and his wife was a lady. Over time, this use was gradually used to refer to more and more people until this class-based definition fell out of use, which is why an announcer at an event might start a speech by addressing those present as "ladies and gentlemen".

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    phoog mentioned that, too. Jul 22, 2023 at 21:24
  • @Heartspring My point is that 'gentleman' isnt just the idiomatic counterpart of 'lady', it's also the literal counterpart thanks to them both (originally) referring to petty nobility/the moneyed upper classes.
    – nick012000
    Jul 23, 2023 at 1:46

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