petrusplancius (petrusplancius) wrote in linguaphiles,


I have just been looking at a French translation of an old German book in which 'Frauenzimmer' is translated as 'femme de chambre' (with comical effect in the specific passage, since it the ladies in question would have taken that an insult).

All the same 'Frauenzimmer' is an odd word, and this prompted me to look up its origin. Apparently in late Middle High German, it was a term for the chamber of a (grand) lady, and there was then a shift of meaning from the place to the people who could be found in it, the attendants of the grand lady, until it finally became a term for an individual woman; applied in a neutral sense initially, until it underwent a decline in the course of the 19th Century, and is now only used (I presume) in a disparaging or facetious manner. An interesting example of the social mobility of words.

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