Language changes. Words develop, evolve, change, become extinct. Every now and then a word long dropped from common usage crops up, usually in a poem or a song, triggering memory and a sense of loss.
Listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Guinnevere" the other day, I had just that experience. The word was "milady," as in: Guinnevere had green eyes/like yours, milady, like yours. And I felt a longing for that word. Milady -- a word showing respect and affection.
The original meaning of the word is "an English noblewoman, akin to the word milord." It belongs to a genteel time (genteel at least in our imaginings), a time of knights and damsels and heroic battles that rarely involved civilians; the word was how one addressed the Lady of the Manor. As such, the word died long ago, with those times.
But there is a somewhat poetic application to the word as well, the way CS and N meant it way back in 1967, and that is the poetic sense. My lover is my lady as well, and by addressing her in that way I show the world how much she means to me; even if I am a pauper, she remains my lady, milady fair.
I was raised to respect women. Even through the movement to establish equality and equal rights between the sexes (a road still under construction though in much better condition than ever before), that sense of respect remains, as it should. There is nothing wrong with having a romantic notion of the other sex as long as one does not transport oneself into a fantasy realm and starts actively looking for dragons. And just because men finally realize that women like sex, too, does not detract from women as people. It enhances them. After all, if it weren't for the fact that human females can have sex pretty much anytime, men would not stick around and societies never would have formed.
That's a fact.
As I told you last week, I am a philogynist -- a lover of women. It happens to be the 38th anniversary today of the day my bride and I became engaged. She is milady -- and a more perfect word could not exist for my head or my heart.
But no one uses it, and that's a sad loss.