Definition of spinster in English:



  • An unmarried woman, typically an older woman beyond the usual age for marriage.

    • ‘Texas's married women quickly relinquished power to their husbands after the Civil War, and spinsters and widows in the Old Southeast maintained close economic and personal ties to kin.’
    • ‘Both widows and spinsters were prominent in property ownership and in financing businesses as sleeping partners.’
    • ‘Single men and those with families, wives, widows and spinsters could all be found in the movement.’
    • ‘What is to be regretted, however, is the demise of all those conscientious spinsters and widows who used to type authors' manuscripts.’
    • ‘Bachelors and spinsters continued to be common and the age of marriage remained high.’
    • ‘The advice literature reiterated this view in the 1830s, '40s, and '50s, and the theme of true marriage and moral spinsters persisted into the last decades of the century.’
    • ‘Youths, who remained bachelors and spinsters due to their economic backwardness, were identified and provided with the required cash and materials for settling down in life.’
    • ‘For example, until recently hardline bachelors and spinsters were seen as odd and eccentric - while today they have become mainstream, even positive figures.’
    • ‘Ann Street started life as an out-of-the-way address for well-to-do widows and spinsters.’
    • ‘Jane is the bright spot in her lonely spinster's life, and a letter from Jane is what she lives and waits for.’
    • ‘A spinster is more than a female bachelor: she is beyond the expected marrying age and therefore seen as rejected and undesirable.’
    • ‘At one time this would have raised eyebrows - all those lonely spinsters and neglected bachelors sitting at home, pining for a mate.’
    • ‘If blame is to be laid, it should be at the feet of a handful of aged and godly spinsters and widows who taught me through my primary education.’
    • ‘He is a gigolo, a love 'em and leave 'em flimflam man who promises widows and spinsters marriage and devotion on the premise of a substantial upfront cash payment.’
    • ‘Unmarried women over twenty were considered spinsters, and bachelors in their late twenties were subjected to public censure and mockery.’
    • ‘Not that single men of today do not have the same taste as the bachelors or spinsters of those days but it so happened that during that period the circumstances were unique.’
    • ‘I want you to realize that are better choices than being a lonely spinster.’
    • ‘Finally, the night was drawing to an end and I was dragged up the front along with all the other unmarried spinsters - against my protests - to try and catch the bouquet.’
    • ‘Female sexuality is now in a better state than it was in Victorian England, when women were categorised into three types: virgin spinsters, wives who only tolerated sex, or whores.’
    • ‘The experience of these nineteenth-century spinsters cannot be divorced from their language because it structured their experience, indeed, it made their experience possible.’
    unwed, unwedded, single, spouseless, partnerless, husbandless, wifeless
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The development of the word spinster is a good example of the way in which a word acquires strong connotations to the extent that it can no longer be used in a neutral sense. From the 17th century the word was appended to names as the official legal description of an unmarried woman: Elizabeth Harris of London, Spinster. This type of use survives today in some legal and religious contexts. In modern everyday English, however, spinster cannot be used to mean simply ‘unmarried woman’; it is now always a derogatory term, referring or alluding to a stereotype of an older woman who is unmarried, childless, prissy, and repressed


Late Middle English (in the sense ‘woman who spins’): from the verb spin + -ster; in early use the term was appended to names of women to denote their occupation. The current sense dates from the early 18th century.