The primary meaning of "mistress of a household" is now mostly obsolete, save for the occasional use of old-fashioned phrases such as "the little lady of the house." This meaning is retained, however, in the title First Lady, used for the wife of an elected president or prime minister. In many European languages the equivalent term serves as a general form of address equivalent to the English Missus usually seen as Mrs. (French Madame, Spanish Señora, Italian Signora, German Frau, Polish Pani, etc.).
The special use of the word as a title of the Virgin Mary, usually Our Lady, represents the Latin Domina Nostra. In Lady Day and Lady Chapel the word is properly a genitive, representing hlǣfdigan "of the Lady".
The word is also used as a title of the Wiccan Goddess, The Lady.
In the case of sons of a duke or marquess, who by courtesy have "Lord" prefixed to their given and family name, the wife is known by the husband's given and family name with "The Lady" prefixed, e.g. The Lady John Smith. The daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls are by courtesy Ladies; here that title is prefixed to the given and family name of the lady, e.g. The Lady Jane Smith, and this is preserved if the lady marries a commoner, e.g. Mr John and The Lady Jane Smith. The predicate 'The' should be used prior to "Lady" or "Lord" in all cases, except after a divorce for women who do not hold the courtesy title of "Lady" in their own right, e.g. Heather, Lady McCartney or Jane, Lady Smith (the ex-wife of The Lord John Smith); cf Diana, Princess of Wales, that lady's final title after her divorce.
"Lady" is also the customary title of the wife of a baronet or knight. The proper title, now only used in legal documents or on sepulchral monuments, is "Dame". In the latter case, "Dame" is prefixed to the given name of the wife followed by the surname of the husband, thus Dame Jane Smith, but in the former, "Lady" with the surname of the husband only, Sir John and The Lady Smith. When a woman divorces a knight and he marries again, the new wife will be The Lady Smith while the ex-wife becomes Jane, The Lady Smith. If a knight dies, his widow becomes Dowager Lady Smith (no the).
In the United Kingdom The title "Lady" is also used for a woman who is a Laird in her own right, so instead of being "Laird Jane Smith" she would be styled as "Lady Jane Smith". This is the same for the wife of a Laird.
During the 15th and 16th centuries princesses or daughters of the blood royal were usually known by their first names with "The Lady" prefixed, e.g. The Lady Elizabeth; since Anglo-Saxon did not have a female equivalent to princes or earls or other royals or nobles, aside from the queen, women of royal and noble status simply carried the title of "Lady".
The euphemistic term "lady friend," often refers to a female one is involved with in a non-platonic way but who is not considered to be a girlfriend.
White's anecdote touches on a phenomenon that others have remarked on as well. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, in a difference reflected in Nancy Mitford's essay "U vs. non-U", lower class women strongly preferred to be called "ladies" while women from higher social backgrounds were content to be identified as "women." Alfred Ayers remarked in 1881 that upper middle class female store clerks were content to be "saleswomen," while lower class female store clerks, for whom their job represented a social advancement, indignantly insisted on being called "salesladies." Something of this sense may also be underneath Kipling's lines:
It remains in use colloquially, for example, as a counterpart to "gentleman," in the phrase "ladies and gentlemen," and is generally interchangeable (in a strictly informal sense) with "woman" (as in, "The lady at the store said I could return this item within thirty days."). "Ladies" is also the normal text on the signs to any female toilet in a public place in the UK, again paired with "Gentlemen" (or "Gents").
Advocates of non-sexist language recommend not using the word at all, whereas others permit its parallel use in the same circumstances in which a man would be called a gentleman or lord (for example, titling washrooms Men and Ladies would be considered sexist, but using either Men and Women or Ladies and Gentlemen would be acceptable; as is landlady as the parallel of landlord.)
In the United States, notably among younger feminists of the 1990s and 00s influenced by riot grrl, "lady" has occasionally been reclaimed in a more ironic fashion. For example, Miranda July's Joanie 4 Jackie chain letter videotape project is said to consist of "lady-made movies," a feminist music and video distributor in North Carolina called itself Mr. Lady Records, and chorus of Le Tigre's song "LT Tour Theme" from the album Feminist Sweepstakes (2000) declares itself to be written "for the ladies and the fags." There are also worldwide feminist music and art festivals which the young feminists call ladyfests.
Power, Passion and Lady P; from Provincial Hairdresser to Wife of the Deputy Prime Minister, Pauline Prescott's Life Has Been 'Like a Soap Opera'. Here She Tells Louette Harding of Her Anguish at Giving Up Her First Son for Adoption, Reveals How Husband John's Affair Almost Tore Their Marriage Apart - and Recalls the Day She Turned Up the Heat on Tony Blair
Feb 27, 2011; Byline: Louette Harding As soon as we arrive at Pauline Prescott's crenellated Victorian house in Hull, she takes us on a tour...