I was wondering if there is a word that describes either the act of a woman going away to learn etiquette from someone outside her immediate family, or describes a woman who is going away to learn etiquette from someone outside her immediate family?

Old fashioned words are fine, it would be especially good if the word is tied to feudal culture.

Update: I have been asked to provide context.

This is part of a conversation between a witch and a faerie queen. The faerie has stolen the witch's granddaughter and naturally enough the witch wants her back. Their conversation is a combination of courtroom argument and a magic battle over the granddaughter.

The witch has said being a blood relationship gives her custody of the child, the faerie is making a counter argument that children leave their families all the time:

“You are old and all your sons and daughter have grown. A boy must learn a trade. A girl must ___ and find a husband. The Child may be of your blood, but blood is not so fair.

Since it has come up in the comments, I'd also like to add that in this setting finishing schools do not exist. Instead one to one mentorship with an older woman is used, I know that happened in the real world. Elizabeth Báthory is rather infamous for killing the girls sent to her to learn etiquette. I'm just hoping there's a specific word for it.

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    I am not sure, but I think in the past (long before my time ;) ) that was called "going away to finishing school", but I am not aware of any "single word" that would mean this. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 27 '12 at 17:50
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    Why a single word and not 5 words? – GEdgar Apr 27 '12 at 17:56
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    A girl must be domesticated? – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Apr 27 '12 at 18:27
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    Where am I? Looks like writersSE to me. – Kris Apr 27 '12 at 19:16
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    In other stories I've read, usually involving male progeny of nobles, the word 'foster' was used. Wikipedia says it was for males and females both. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fosterage – Mark Allen Apr 27 '12 at 20:47

Debutante: a woman makes her first public appearance. (See Oxford Dictionary of English.)

So, in the context you have provided the word could be debut:

"You are old and all your sons and daughter have grown. A boy must learn a trade. A girl must debut and find a husband. [...]"

Some references from Google Books:

  • Critical Companion to Henry James by Kendall Johnson, Eric L. Haralson
    The focus of their conversation turns to Mrs. Brook's daughter, Nanda, who is of an age to make her social debut and find a husband according to the custom of the time.

  • William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace by Edward S. Cooper
    Amanda's two young nieces, Lucy and Alida Worthington, came for different reasons; Alida for a short holiday on her way to school in Baltimore, and Lucy to make her social debut and find a husband.

  • That could work. I'd like a word that specifically means studying etiquette since that's what the Queen intends. But if I can't find a word for that I think I'll use this instead. – Benjamin Confino Apr 27 '12 at 18:31
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    Is there a reason you rolled back my edit? Trust me, you want first and not fist. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Apr 27 '12 at 18:32
  • A debutante has already been to finishing school (or learned sufficient etiquette to be 'presentable'). – Mitch Apr 27 '12 at 19:48
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    I'm no expert on Victorian culture, but I thought a girl's "debut" meant a formal party where she was introduced to society, not an educational process. I suppose in a sense a debut might be considered something like a graduation ceremony, but it's not the 4 years of college. It's a one-time, one-evening event. At least that's my understanding. – Jay Apr 27 '12 at 21:00
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    @BenjaminConfino: 'debut' does not match the idea that you've described. A 'debut' is not 'going away to learn etiquette'. A 'debut' is being presented (for the first time) to society for the purposes of stating that the girl is now accepting marriage proposals. It may be in your faerie/witchcraft setting the social expectations are different, but it would be very confusing to try to give the impression 'she is going away to learn etiquette' with a word that means 'she is ready to be married'. The debut would seem understandable if she just came -back- from going away to learn etiquette. – Mitch Apr 27 '12 at 21:46

Based on your context, I'd offer:

A boy must learn a trade. A girl must learn social graces and find a husband.

No, it's not a single word, but it seems to flow well nonetheless. Besides, social graces has a timeless enough ring to it; it could work well even in a world of witches and faeries.

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    I'm not big on social graces / Think I'll slip on down to the Oasis / Oh, I've got friends in low places... – MT_Head Apr 27 '12 at 20:15

You could say, "A girl must learn to be charming and find a husband."

You could say "A girl must attend charm school...", except you said that "finishing school" would not have existed in the time of your story's setting.

In your context, charm would have the double meaning of attractiveness and a magical incantation.


I would think 'learn courtesy' would be the best fit. The word originally meant 'behaviour at the king's court'; 'court manners' is the root of the modern usage, but the original covered much more than that, and young people (of both sexes) were sent to noble families for several years to learn it.


I believe that the kind of young woman is an "au pair."

In its original context, it meant, "of equals," that is, the young woman is actually a social EQUAL of the host family. The mistress of the house would teach the young woman domestic arts, and the young woman would reciprocate by helping her perform those functions and "practicing" at the same time.

Most often, the "domestic arts" in question, were childcaring. And in the modern context, the "mistress" wanted to slough OFF those responsibilities to the young woman or au pair while she did other things (like go to work). Hence the modern development of "au pairs" who were NOT the socio-economic equals of their "mistresses."

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