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[spin-ster] /ˈspɪn stər/
Disparaging and Offensive. a woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marrying.
Chiefly Law. a woman who has never married.
a woman whose occupation is spinning.
Origin of spinster
1325-75; Middle English spinnestere a woman who spins. See spin, -ster
Related forms
spinsterhood, noun
spinsterish, adjective
spinsterishly, adverb
spinsterlike, adjective
Usage note
The meaning “a woman beyond the usual marriageable age” is used with disparaging intent and perceived as insulting. It implies negative qualities such as being fussy or undesirable. See also old maid. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for spinster
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Men always treat with derision the woman anxious for matrimony, and gibe equally at the spinster who fails to attain it.

  • Her own idea was that, if she lived long enough, she would become a spinster.

    All Roads Lead to Calvary Jerome K. Jerome
  • We were startled, while gravely listening to this tale of the two spinster ladies, by the sudden tolling of the church bell.

  • And she gave the spinster an encouraging pat on her shoulder.

    The Lost Despatch Natalie Sumner Lincoln
  • Neither had Josie Fifer been hired to walk wistfully among them like a spinster wandering in a dead rose garden.

    Cheerful--By Request Edna Ferber
  • The spinster's eyes filled with tears when she first saw Nancy.

    The Lost Despatch Natalie Sumner Lincoln
  • It was part of the spinster's life to subject her companion to a kind of drill in this way.

    A Lost Cause Cyril Arthur Edward Ranger Gull
British Dictionary definitions for spinster


an unmarried woman regarded as being beyond the age of marriage
(law) (in legal documents) a woman who has never married Compare feme sole
(formerly) a woman who spins thread for her living
Derived Forms
spinsterhood, noun
spinsterish, adjective
Word Origin
C14 (in the sense: a person, esp a woman, whose occupation is spinning; C17: a woman still unmarried): from spin + -ster
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for spinster

mid-14c., "female spinner of thread," from Middle English spinnen (see spin) + -stere, feminine suffix. Spinning commonly done by unmarried women, hence the word came to denote "an unmarried woman" in legal documents from 1600s to early 1900s, and by 1719 was being used generically for "woman still unmarried and beyond the usual age for it."

Spinster, a terme, or an addition in our Common Law, onely added in Obligations, Euidences, and Writings, vnto maids vnmarried. [John Minsheu, "Ductor in Linguas," 1617]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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