There is an expression that sounds really weird to my Spanish-speaking students and to my surprise it is:” Ladies and gentleman”. It just sounds too formal too official and too Oscar-awards-night for most of them.
“So, then we can actually use“lady” in everyday language and not sound pompous?”- was a question after I mentioned the lady who lives next door to me. Mind you, some of them get equally stupefied when they hear a hotel receptionist addressing one of the characters in a video as “Madam”.
“But that’s French not English!”, yeah, no big deal . Some 60% of words in English originate in French.However, that’s not the topic today.
Today we are talking about ladies. Of course, there is a reason why this word seems too old-fashioned and posh for language students to use. They usually think of duchesses and countesses and other royal titles and they are right to. What first comes to mind is whichever film taking place in the middle ages, knights and ladies dancing at court or Victorian ladies sipping on their afternoon tea or often even more recent times described in popular TV series such as Downton Abbey. Have a glance at some 20th century ladies and gentlemen:
Nevertheless, that IS what we all imagine , don’t we? We are marked by how the word was used in social contexts before our times . But then, this normal as one of the definitions for lady in the FREE DICTIONARY is:
1. A general feminine title of nobility and other rank, specifically:
a. Used as the title for the wife or widow of a knight or baronet.
b. Used as a form of address for a marchioness, countess, viscountess, baroness, or baronetess.
c. Used as a form of address for the wife or widow of a baron.
d. Used as a courtesy title for the daughter of a duke, a marquis, or an earl.
e. Used as a courtesy title for the wife of a younger son of a duke or marquis.
Going back to definitions, the general one is:
1. A well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behaviour.
What proper behaviour is or was depending on the decade, becomes obvious to us when we listen carefully to pop songs.Listen to what Tom Jones thinks a lady should be like in 1971.Mind you , he can leave her all alone!
Good old Frankie was also quite judgemental. Listen to this song: his lady won’t leave her escort,will she?
But then the other two definitions are:
a. A woman to whom a man is romantically attached.
b. Informal A wife.
Let’s leave the two gentlemen above define what ladies are like and go on to enjoying music devoted to other special ladies:
For the end, some laughs: some ladies like doing “lady things” in Little Britain, too. Have a great weekend ladies and gentlemen!
Usage Note: Lady is normally used as a parallel to gentleman to emphasize norms expected in polite society or in situations requiring courtesies: Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. I believe the lady in front of the counter was here before me.
P.S. For opinions on how some ladies/women prefer to be addressed and why, listen to this slightly more serious debate from Woman’s Hour: