Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

I have just read a blog disparaging the use of the word lady because it sniffs of elitism and snobbery at one extreme and disrespect—as in “Hey, lady, didn’t you see that stop sign”—at the other extreme. The blogger expounded for paragraph after paragraph about the negativity of the word.

Thankfully, I then found the following definition of the word lady from Byju, the multinational education company:

“In general usage, to call someone a lady is to make a positive statement regarding a woman’s manners, etiquette and comportment. It is more than just an assessment that the person in question is a woman. It is a statement about her character, and a complimentary one.”

I believe the word lady, in American culture, was initially intended to reflect the latter understanding of the word lady. And, although I am sad to say that it is overused and used inappropriately in this day, I still believe in its original intention.

A lady can be of any class, race or persuasion, but a woman cannot rightfully be called a lady if she is rude, engages in vulgar expressions of her sexuality—there’s one for discussion!—and chooses not to control her language.

I understand that some women prefer not to be ladies, that they are uncomfortable with the idea and/or the behaviors required. I do not judge them as less than worthy. I also don’t mean to suggest a woman can’t have a slip every so often and still merit being called a lady. I want always to be, in the words of Lionel Richie, “once, twice, three times a lady,” but sometimes I don’t make it to three. Rather, it is a conscious choice to walk the walk as best she can.

As with the gentle and elegant snow leopard or the beautiful, important Monarch butterfly, both of which are in jeopardy, if ladies should become extinct, it would be a tragic, tragic loss.

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at