I am wondering what "ladies" means in the following sentences:

‘The first part,’ Angus says, ‘is: “Do brave deeds and endure”, which was the school motto. The second part was added in by us boys: “If I can’t move heaven, then I shall raise hell.” It used to get chanted before rugby matches.’

‘And the rest,’ says Duncan, with a nasty smile.

‘It’s so menacing,’ Georgina says. But she’s staring up at her red, sweaty, wild-eyed husband as though she’s never found him so attractive.

‘That was kind of the point.’

‘Right, ladies,’ Johnno shouts. ‘Time to stop fannying around and get some drinking done!’

Another roar of approval from the others. Femi and Duncan mix the whisky with wine, with sauce left over from the meal, with salt and pepper, so it forms a disgusting brown soup. And then the game begins – all of them slamming down their hands on the table and yelling at the top of their voices.

  • Lucy Foley, The Guest List, Chapter 15

Before the actual wedding day, at the rehearsal dinner, the best man Johnno and the ushers began to chant menacing Latin words ("Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo!’) before starting their drinking game.

In this scene, only male people are participating in the drinking game (though some women are also present at the table), so I wonder what Johnno had meant by calling them "ladies." It is perhaps an insult? But then, I wonder why there was a roar of approval. I would like to know how this "ladies" sound to English speakers.

  • 2
    It indeed is meant to be insulting, but in a friendly way. Apr 21, 2021 at 11:31
  • It looks to me like US Marine slang (a sergeant addressing his male audience as "Ladies" is typical "camaraderie / badinage"). Not a usage that was ever common in the UK, in military contexts or elsewhere. Apr 21, 2021 at 14:12
  • If a woman can address her female friends collectively as "(you) guys", why a man can't humorously address his pals as "ladies"? I think it's just an accepted shtick within a group of male peers, be it an army unit, a sports team, or a friendly gathering.
    – Victor B.
    Apr 21, 2021 at 14:33
  • To some extent, the plural "guys" has become degendered in colloquial usage (although there are, of course, those who object to this usage). I don't think the same is true of "ladies". But as others have suggested, I think it is only superficially an insult, since it's used as part of male bonding.
    – rjpond
    Apr 21, 2021 at 14:38
  • 2
    In other words, banter. Apr 21, 2021 at 14:53

1 Answer 1


It’s an emasculating way to refer to a group of men, in this case said as a joke.

Off the top of my head, I can think of Wreck-it-Ralph as another example. The female commanding officer, Calhoun, uses it as a form of address to her troops, who are (almost certainly all) men:

Calhoun: All right. Now listen up, ’cause I’m only gonna say this once. “Fear” is a four letter word, ladies. If you wanna go pee-pee in your big-boy slacks, keep it to yourself! It’s make-your-mamas-proud time!
Ralph: I love my mama!

(Notice the choice of language in the next sentence. It uses terms usually used with children, as Calhoun is looking down on her soldiers.)

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