A woman of wealth, of station, or of rank. Verstegan says, “It
was anciently written Hleafdian [? hlæfdige], contracted first into
Lafdy, and then into Lady. Laf or Hláf (loaf) means food
in general or bread in particular, and dig-ian or dug-an, to help, serve, or care for; whence lady means the `bread-server.' The
lord (or loaf-ward supplied the food, and the lady saw that it
was properly served, for the ladies used to carve and distribute
the food to the guests.”
Another etymology is Hláf-weardie and loaf-wardie, where ie stands for a female suffix like—ina ine; as Carolus,
female Carol-ina, or Carol-ine; Joseph, Joseph-ina or Joseph-ine; Czar, Czar-ina, etc. etc.
to the drawing-room after dinner, and leave the gentlemen behind.
This custom was brought in by the Norsemen. The Vikings always
dismissed all women from their drinking parties. (S. Bunbury.)
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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