Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Chivalry


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is chivalry. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Chivalry refers to the qualities of the ideal knight, such as honor, generosity, and courtesy—in other words, an honorable and polite way of behaving toward others. It is used especially to refer to such behavior as expressed by men toward women.

// Some believe that holding doors open for others is an act of chivalry, but doing so only for women is considered patronizing by many.

CHIVALRY in Context

“At a North Carolina charter school, all students follow the same curriculum. But their gender-specific uniform requirements—pants for boys, and skirts, skorts or jumpers for girls—separate them in a way a federal court on Tuesday deemed unconstitutional. The dress code … no longer can be enforced, Senior Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote in a majority opinion. The school founder’s claim that the uniform rules promote chivalry ‘based on the view that girls are “fragile vessels” deserving of “gentle” treatment by boys’ was determined to be discriminating against female students in the 10-to-6 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.” — María Luisa Paúl and Anne Branigin, The Washington Post, 15 June 2022

Did You Know?

Chivalry is dead, they say. The statement is indisputably true in at least one sense: the word chivalry first referred to medieval knights, as in “the king was accompanied by his chivalry,” and we’re quite certain those knights are all long gone. But the word’s meaning has shifted since the 14th century, with other meanings joining the first over the years. Today, chivalry typically refers to an honorable and polite way of behaving, especially by men toward women. And when people say “chivalry is dead” they’re usually bemoaning either a perceived lack of good manners among those they encounter generally, or a dearth of men holding doors for appreciative women. The word came to English by way of French, and is ultimately from the Late Latin word caballārius, meaning “horseback rider, groom,” ancestor too of another term for a daring medieval gentleman-at-arms: cavalier. In a twist, the adjective form of cavalier is often used to describe someone who is overly nonchalant about important matters—not exactly chivalrous.

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