One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1An old woman.
- ‘And the King comported himself to that aged beldame in all ways with the utmost consideration as though she had been a beautiful dame of the highest degree in the land.’
- ‘The dump of boots outside, the croaking of old beldames from attic to attic, the dull murmur of morning, unnerved him, and, dozing, he slumped in his chair, his brain, overladen with sound and color, working intolerably over the imagery that stacked it.’
- ‘We were in an alcove adjacent to one end, next to two ancient beldames who were tucking into a Gargantuan feast.’
- ‘He was one for consulting the ancient crones and beldames.’
- ‘I had arrived, it appeared, just in time for the September harvesting of the grapes, judging from the comments of the beldames whom I heard as I broke away from the friendly breeze that had borne me over the Channel to this exquisite little valley in the heart of France.’
- 1.1 A malicious or loathsome old woman.
- ‘The broken hollow path bending upwards round the base, is always occupied by a grotesque group of cripples and beldames, in rags and tatters, laughing and whining and praying.’
- ‘I returned to the same private school as before, but I returned no longer an innocent child prepared to have irrelevant knowledge poured into my head by the old beldame who ran the place.’
- ‘Roused by the sight of one ‘winsome wench’ among the old beldams, Tam shouts to her.’
- ‘Imprisoned, tortured, deprived of sleep and with heads shaved in the case of women, since it was believed witches’ familiar spirits clung to their hair when the beldames took to the air on broomsticks, the first people to be accused implicated others, often unintentionally.’
- ‘The current view about witches is, we presume, that they were a collection of sour beldams and neurotic girls, unusually prone to hallucinations, who were the victims of terrified or malicious neighbours aided by ignorant and superstitious judges.’
Late Middle English (originally in the sense ‘grandmother’): from Old French bel ‘beautiful’ + dam.
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