- A woman who is divorced or separated from her husband.
- A woman whose husband is temporarily absent.
- An abandoned mistress.
- The mother of a child born out of wedlock.
Origin of grass widow Perhaps in allusion to a bed of grass or straw Word History: Grass widow
is first recorded in 1528, and originally referred to an unmarried woman who has lived with one or more men, a discarded mistress, or a woman who has borne a child out of wedlock. The grass
in grass widow
seems to have originally made reference to the makeshift bed of grass or hay (as opposed to a real bed with a mattress and sheets) on which a woman might lie with her lover before he rises and abandons her—leaving her a widow, so to speak, in the grass. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, grass and the color green in general had sexual connotations, in allusion to the green stains left on clothing after rolling in the hay. (The lyrics of the 16th-century song Greensleeves,
for example, give voice to the sufferings of an abandoned lover.) By the middle of the 19th century, however, grass widow
had come to refer mainly to a wife whose husband is temporarily absent or one who is living apart from her husband. In colonial India, for example, it was used of British women who, during the hot season, went off to enjoy the cool of the hills while their husbands were stuck at their jobs in the heat of the plains. Although the reason for the change in meaning is not known with any certainty, people may have interpreted the grass
in grass widow
as equivalent to pasture,
as in the expression out to pasture.
Nowadays, the term grass widow
can also refer to a wife who has separated from her husband and to a divorced woman.
(plural grass widows)
- An unmarried woman who has lived with several different men; a former mistress. [from 16th c.]
- A married woman whose husband is away. [from 19th c.]
From grass + widow. Compare Dutch grasweduwe, Swedish gräsänka.