Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a female lion

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun lioness is formed from the noun ‘lion’ and the suffix -ess, used to make nouns referring to female animals and women. It was first used in English in the 14th century.


The success of the England women’s football team in reaching the semi-final stage of the World Cup has created a lot of interest and excitement around the sport and its players. The team are known informally as The Lionesses, after the three heraldic lions that adorn both the women’s and the men’s team strip. The word lioness has highly positive connotations: of power, grace and tenacious defence of one’s young, to name a few. There are many nouns in English ending in -ess that refer to women. Many are uncontroversial, such as those referring to roles and titles exclusive to women, like princess, baroness, duchess, and marchioness. Another group relates to religious functions, such as goddess, priestess and prophetess. Other terms, like temptress, enchantress, songstress and huntress, have an old-fashioned or literary flavour. The -ess suffix can sometimes seem to suggest lesser worth or subordinate status, and as a result words ending in -ess that refer to jobs that are done by both men and women have tended to fall into disfavour. This is why terms like ‘poetess’ and ‘conductress’ have mostly fallen into disuse, and why many prefer the term ‘actor’ to ‘actress’ for a woman who acts. Similarly, manager is nowadays generally preferred to manageress, and flight attendant to stewardess or air hostess. 


“The Lionesses are also a distinctly northern group, with the majority of the 23-strong squad born in north-west or north-east England or Yorkshire.”
(BBC website)

“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.” “Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed.”
(C. S. Lewis)

Related words


Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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