Definition: Woman

From New World Encyclopedia


From Middle English womman, wimman, wifman, from Old English wīfmann (woman, literally "female person"), a compound of wīf (woman, female, whence English wife) + mann (person, human being, whence English man); thus equivalent to wife + man. For details on the pronunciation and spelling history, see the usage notes below. Cognate with Scots woman, weman (woman), Saterland Frisian Wieuwmoanske (female person, female human, woman). Similar constructions can be found in West Frisian frommes (woman, girl) (from frou and minske, literally "woman human").


woman (plural women)

  1. An adult female human.
  2. (collective) All female humans collectively; womankind.
  3. A female person, usually an adult; a (generally adult) female sentient being, whether human, supernatural, elf, alien, etc.
  4. A wife (or sometimes a fiancée or girlfriend).
  5. A female person who is extremely fond of or devoted to a specified type of thing. (Used as the last element of a compound.
    I have a feeling that one day I will have a fantastic music woman as a wife.
  6. A female attendant or servant.

Usage notes

The current pronunciation of the first vowel of the singular began to appear in western England in the thirteenth century under the rounding influence of the w, though the older pronunciation with /i/ (modern /ɪ/) remained in use into the fifteenth century. Although the vowel of the plural was sometimes also altered to /u/ (modern /ʊ/) beginning in the fourteenth century, the pronunciation with /ɪ/ ultimately won out there, possibly under the influence of pairs like foot-feet. However, many speakers (especially of New Zealand English or South African English) have either retained or reinnovated the pronunciation of the plural with /ʊ/. The modern spelling women for the plural is due to influence of the singular; it is attested from the fifteenth century. For a time in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the pronunciation of the singular sometimes drifted even further back towards /uː/ or /ɔː~oː/ (modern /oʊ~əʊ/) and the plural sometimes drifted even further forward towards /iː/, leading to comparisons of the words to "woe man" or "we men.") As a term of address, the word is often considered patronizing and at least somewhat offensive; compare the usage of woman as a verb.

Derived terms

  • aircraftswoman
  • airwoman
  • artillerywoman
  • axewoman
  • barwoman
  • basewoman
  • basketwoman
  • batswoman
  • boatwoman
  • businesswoman
  • camerawoman
  • careerwoman
  • cattlewoman
  • cavewoman
  • chairwoman
  • cis woman
  • clergywoman
  • councilwoman
  • countrywoman
  • craftswoman
  • deliverywoman
  • doorwoman
  • Dutchwoman
  • everywoman
  • ferrywoman
  • firewoman
  • first woman
  • fisherwoman
  • Frenchwoman
  • frontierwoman
  • frontwoman
  • gentlewoman
  • handywoman
  • hitwoman
  • huntswoman
  • horsewoman
  • Irishwoman
  • laundrywoman
  • mailwoman
  • markswoman
  • medicine woman
  • merwoman
  • middlewoman
  • militiawoman
  • milkwoman
  • muscle woman
  • needlewoman
  • noblewoman
  • Norsewoman
  • nurserywoman
  • outdoorswoman
  • policewoman
  • poultrywoman
  • repairwoman
  • riflewoman
  • saleswoman
  • Scotswoman
  • servicewoman
  • spacewoman
  • spokeswoman
  • sportswoman
  • stateswoman
  • stockwoman
  • stuntwoman
  • superwoman
  • swordswoman
  • tradeswoman
  • trans woman
  • weatherwoman
  • womanhood
  • womanize
  • womanizer
  • womankind
  • womanlike
  • womanly
  • womenfolk
  • women's rights


woman (third-person singular simple present womans, present participle womaning or womanning, simple past and past participle womaned or womanned)

  1. To staff with female labor.
  2. To make effeminate or womanish.
  3. To furnish with, or unite to, a woman.
  4. To call (a person) "woman" in a disrespectful fashion.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors copied and adjusted this Wiktionary entry in accordance with NWE standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit for this article is due to both New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions at Wiktionary is accessible to researchers here: