spin·ster (noun)

Definition and meaning: 

1.  Woman, who is single beyond the general marrying age, degrading. (~old maid).
2.  By Law (in some legal systems): a female who has never married. (~unmarried woman).
3.  Outdated: Someone whose occupation is spinning thread  (~spinner, thread maker).
4.  Modern: Humorous, self-mocking term used by single women of them selves. Ironic. (~bachelorette, single woman).
5.  Someone involved in creating spin in public relations, manipulates news, espesially in politics, prejocatice. (~spin doctor).

[Literal Origin: 1325–75; ME spinnestere a woman who spins.]

Similar Words and Synonymes: bachelor, bachelorette, batch, celibate, eligible, fancy-free, footloose, husbandless, maiden, old maid, quirkyalone, single, singleton, sole, spouseless, unattached, uncoupled, unhitched, unmarried, unwed, unwedded,  wifeless

Possible Explanations of Origins and Ethymology: 

  • In Saxon era girl was not fit to marry before she had spun enough for her trousseau. Spinning was in general delegated to unmarried women in the house (spinners or spinsters). (Also word Wife comes from weawing, next state in cloth-making).
  • Most female spinners were old unmarried women opposed to milk-maids that were unmarried young women.
  • There were limited posibilities for unmarried women. Typically they lived with relatives. She would spend her time spinning for the benefit of the family. The word came to signify ‘unmarried woman’ in legal documents from17th until 20th century, and by 18th was commonly used for ‘woman unmarried beyond the usual age’.
  • In pre-industrial England there was plenty of manual work for both men and women of any status. Spinning was the common task of old maids. Only after industrialisation both spinsters and manual spinning became less usefull. After that spinster became decrading nick-name of middle (and upper) class unmarried women. [Working class women were naturally working wether they were married or not.]
  • Spinster, a terme, or an addition in our Common Law, onely added in Obligations, Euidences, and Writings, unto maids unmarried.” [John Minsheu, “Ductor in Linguas,” 1617]
  • “A woman of evil life and character; — so called from being forced to spin in a house of correction.” [Merriam-Webster, 1913]

Related expressions:

Old maid: can mean both childrens card came and a flover, also known as old maid’s bonnet ( Indian beet)  in Southern States, US. 

Old maid’s pink: Corncockle, a violet flower in the European corn fields. 

Old-maids-insanity: psychological condition, delusion, belief that some one, usually of higher social status, is in love with them. Usually there is no or very little actual contact between subject and object.In modern times the objects are usually public personalities, often celebrities. It may lead to stalking. (Eromania).

Bachelors’ and Spinsters’ Balls (also:  B & S Balls or B & S’s) Parties hold in countryside Australia for young single people.

Spin a yarn, to tell an imaginary story. Originates from maritime world, where two men spinning yarn told each-other stories.

Leather Spinster: A heterosexual or asexual woman, who has no intention to marry or find a mate currently or in future. Not angry of singlehood, finding the life fulfilling as it is. Originates from 1980s.


French: célibataire, vieille fille
German: Junggesellin, alter Jungfer
Spanish: soltera, solterona
Italian: zitella
Portuguese: solteirona
Dutch: oude vrijster
Swedish: gammal ungmö, gammalpiga
Norwegian (both): peppermø, gammel jomfru
Danish: gammeljomfru, pebermø, pebersvend
Finnish: vanhapiika, ikäneito
Polish: stara panna
Slovak: stará dievka
Lithuanian: senmerge, senmergė
Lettish: vecmeita
Hungarian: vénkisasszony, hajadon
Russian: старая дева

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