The terms “lady” and “gentleman” imply a degree of respect for the person they describe. A lady does not speak with her mouth full. A gentleman does not discuss his wealth with strangers. And a rough character, such as a drifter or a con man, a prostitute or a child molester, does not warrant the label. Recently there have been complaints about news reporters using the term “gentlemen” to refer to characters under suspicion of criminal behavior. “The gentleman in question is out on parole despite the murder charge.” It would seem that “man” would be a better choice of words.
When writing fiction, keep in mind the terminology you use. Aside from the titled women of Great Britain (a countess, baroness, or the daughter of a duke, for example), a lady is generally defined as a woman of refinement and manners, implying “good breeding.” A gentleman is defined as a man of noble or gentle birth; a man belonging to the landed gentry; or a man who combines gentle birth or rank with chivalrous qualities (Merriam-Webster).
So if you have a group of rugby players or roller derby champs who happen to be female, even if they’re individually ladylike and courteous in their personal lives, it would be best to refer to them as “women,” as in “The women ran roughshod over the competition.” Otherwise your reader might picture a group of delicate, prissy women politely scoring goals and gently pushing their fellow “ladies” out of harm’s way.
Be sure to use “ladies” and “gentlemen” with care and consciousness of the implications of the words and the effect your choice will have on your readers.
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