A woman (irregular plural: women) is a female human. The term woman is usually reserved for an adult, with the term girl being the usual term for a female child or adolescent. However, the term woman is also sometimes used to identify a female human, regardless of age, as in phrases such as "Women's rights".
The English term "Man" (from Proto-Germanic mannaz "man, person") and words derived therefrom can designate any or even all of the human race regardless of their sex or age. This is the old usage of "Man" in English. It derives from Proto-Indo-European *mánu- 'man, human', cognate to Sanskrit manu, Old Church Slavonic mǫžĭ, 'man', 'husband'.
In Old English the words wer and wyf (also wæpman and wifman) were used to refer to "a man" and "a woman" respectively, and "Man" was gender-neutral. In Middle English man displaced wer as term for "male human", whilst wifman (which eventually evolved into woman) was retained for "female human". ("Wif" also evolved into the word "wife".) "Man" carries this old sense of "Human" however, resulting in an asymmetry criticized as sexist.
A very common Indo-European root for woman, *gwen-, is the source of English queen (Old English cwēn primarily meant woman, highborn or not; this is still the case in Danish, with the modern spelling kvinde), as well as gynaecology (from Greek gynē), banshee fairy woman (from Irish bean woman, sí fairy) and zenana (from Persian zan). The Latin fēmina, whence female, is likely from the root in fellāre (to suck), referring to breastfeeding.
The symbol for the planet Venus is the sign also used in biology for the female sex. It is a stylized representation of the goddess Venus's hand mirror or an abstract symbol for the goddess: a circle with a small equilateral cross underneath (Unicode: ♀). The Venus symbol also represented femininity, and in ancient alchemy stood for copper. Alchemists constructed the symbol from a circle (representing spirit) above an equilateral cross (representing matter).
Womanhood is the period in a female's life after she has transitioned from girlhood, at least physically, having passed the age of [menarche]. Many cultures have rites of passage to symbolize a woman's coming of age, such as confirmation in some branches of Christianity, bat mitzvah in Judaism, or even just the custom of a special celebration for a certain birthday (generally between 12 and 21).
The word woman can be used generally, to mean any female human, or specifically, to mean an adult female human as contrasted with girl. The word girl originally meant "young person of either sex" in English; it was only around the beginning of the 16th century that it came to mean specifically a female child. Nowadays girl sometimes is used colloquially to refer to a young or unmarried woman. During the early 1970s feminists challenged such use, and use of the word to refer to a fully grown woman may cause offence. In particular, previously common terms such as office girl are no longer used.
Conversely, in certain cultures which link family honor with female virginity, the word girl is still used to refer to a never-married woman; in this sense it is used in a fashion roughly analogous to the obsolete English maid or maiden. Referring to an unmarried female as a woman may, in such a culture, imply that she is sexually experienced, which would be an insult to her family.
In some settings, the use of girl to refer to an adult female is a common practice (such as girls' night out), even among some elderly women. In this sense, girl may be considered to be the analogue to the British word bloke for a man, although it again fails to meet the parallel status as an adult. Gal aside, some feminists cite this lack of an informal yet respectful term for women as misogynistic; they regard non-parallel usages, such as men and girls, as sexist.
There are various words used to refer to the quality of being a woman. The term "womanhood" merely means the state of being a woman, having passed the menarche; "femininity" is used to refer to a set of supposedly typical female qualities associated with a certain attitude to gender roles; "womanliness" is like "femininity", but is usually associated with a different view of gender roles; "femaleness" is a general term, but is often used as shorthand for "human femaleness"; "distaff" is an archaic adjective derived from women's conventional role as a spinner, now used only as a deliberate archaism; "muliebrity" is a neologism (derived from the Latin) meant to provide a female counterpart of "virility", but used very loosely, sometimes to mean merely "womanhood", sometimes "femininity" and sometimes even as a collective term for women.
- Chafe, William H., "The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, And Political Roles, 1920-1970", Oxford University Press, 1972. ISBN 0-19-501785-4
- Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003 3rd edition) ISBN 0-618-25414-5
- McWhorter, John. 'The Uses of Ugliness', The New Republic Online, January 31, 2002. Retrieved May 11, 2005 ["bitch" as an affectionate term]
- McWhorter, John. Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority (New York: Gotham, 2003) ISBN 1-59240-001-9 [casual use of "bitch" in ebonics]
Routledge international encyclopedia of women, 4 vls., ed. by Cheris Kramarae and Dale Spender, Routledge 2000
- Women in world history : a biographical encyclopedia, 17 vls., ed. by Anne Commire, Waterford, Conn. [etc.] : Yorkin Publ. [etc.], 1999 - 2002
- man - definition Dictionary.reference.com
- queen - The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Bartleby.com
- female - The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Bartleby.com
- "Why is life expectancy longer for women than it is for men?". Scientific American. 2004-08-30. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
- Menarche and menstruation are absent in many of the intersex and transgender conditions mentioned above and also in primary amenorrhea.
- Education Levels Rising in OECD Countries but Low Attainment Still Hampers Some, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Publication Date: 14/09/2004. Retrieved December 2006.
- Women in Scientific Careers: Unleashing the Potential, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ISBN 92-64-02537-5, Publication Date: 20/11/2006. Retrieved December 2006.