A damsel was originally a young unmarried lady of noble birth, but soon after the introduction of the word from French it appears to have taken on the general meaning of ‘young woman’, ‘a country lass’. In French the word demoiselle was ultimately a diminutive of Latin domina, ‘lady’. Used vocatively in former times, ‘damsel’ is either as polite as ‘young lady’ or as impersonal as ‘girl’ according to context. In Beaumont and Fletcher’s play The Wild-Goose Chase, Mirabel’s comment to Oriana: ‘Are you caught, damsel?’ shows the impersonal use. It is far more polite when Joseph, in Fielding’s Tom Jones, says to a stranger: ‘Be of good cheer, damsel’ In modern times the word would only be used jokingly, perhaps to a young lady who was experiencing difficulties of some kind, a ‘damsel in distress’, The latter phrase presumably became fossilized because of its convenient alliteration.

A dictionary of epithets and terms of address . . 2015.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Damsel — Dam sel (d[a^]m z[e^]l), n. [OE. damosel, damesel, damisel, damsel, fr. OF. damoisele, damisele, gentlewoman, F. demoiselle young lady; cf. OF. damoisel young nobleman, F. damoiseau; fr. LL. domicella, dominicella, fem., domicellus, dominicellus …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • damsel — late 12c., from O.Fr. dameisele woman of noble birth (Mod.Fr. demoiselle young lady ), modified (by association with dame) from earlier donsele, from Gallo Romance *domnicella, dim. of L. domina lady (see DAME (Cf. dame)). Archaic until revived… …   Etymology dictionary

  • damsel — [n] maiden colleen, lady, lass, lassie, miss, virgin, woman, young girl, young woman; concepts 414,415 …   New thesaurus

  • damsel — ► NOUN archaic or literary ▪ a young unmarried woman. ORIGIN Old French dameisele, from Latin domina mistress …   English terms dictionary

  • damsel — [dam′zəl] n. [damesele < OFr dameisele < VL * dominicella, dim. of L domina: see DAME] Now Literary a girl; maiden …   English World dictionary

  • damsel — UK [ˈdæmz(ə)l] / US noun [countable] Word forms damsel : singular damsel plural damsels an old word for a young woman who is not married • a damsel in distress …   English dictionary

  • damsel — [[t]dæ̱mz(ə)l[/t]] damsels N COUNT A damsel is a young, unmarried woman. [LITERARY, OLD FASHIONED] He keeps coming to the aid of this damsel in distress. Syn: maiden …   English dictionary

  • damsel — dam|sel [ˈdæmzəl] n old use [Date: 1200 1300; : Old French; Origin: dameisele, from Latin domina lady of high rank ] 1.) a young woman who is not married 2.) damsel in distress a young woman who needs help or protection used humorously …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • damsel — dam|sel [ dæmzl ] noun count an old word for a young woman who is not married a damsel in distress HUMOROUS a woman who is in trouble and needs help …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • damsel — noun (C) 1 old use a young woman who is not married 2 damsel in distress humorous a young woman who needs help or protection …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”