• noun a woman. An Americanism usually identified with the criminal, musical, etc. milieus of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The usage obviously derives from the original British 13th-century title of ‘Dame’ (itself from the Latin domina, via Old french), which quickly became a synonym for a woman in dialect and rural speech. Like doll, broad and, to some extent, chick, the term now sounds dated.


  • In English pantomime, a comic female role that istraditionally played by a man. The best-known such roles include MotherGoose, Cinderella's Ugly Sisters, Dame Trot, and Aladdin's motherWidow Twankey (described in 1844 as "a washerwoman with mangledfeelings"). Dames became especially popular in the late 19thcentury when music hall performers began working in pantomime. FamousDames have included Dan Leno, George Robey, and Arthur Askey, whoplayed numerous such parts in a panto career that lasted until hewas 82. In 2004 Ian McKellen fulfilled a long-standing ambitionwhen he played Widow Twankey in the Old Vic's Aladdin.

Origin & History of “dame”

Latin domina was the feminine form of dominus ‘lord’ (see (dominion)). English acquired it via Old French dame, but it has also spread through the other romance languages, including Spanish dueña (source of English duenna (17th c.)) and Italian donna (whence English prima donna, literally ‘first lady’ (18th c.)). The vulgar Latin diminutive form of domina was *dominicella, literally ‘little lady’. this passed into Old French as donsele, was modified by association with dame to damisele, and acquired in the 13th century by English, in which it subsequently became damsel (the archaic variant damosel came from the 16th-century French form damoiselle).