Easily Confused Words: Milady vs. Malady

Milady and malady are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Milady (pronounced “mih-laid-ee”) is an noun. It is a form of address for an English noblewoman. It’s a not a word we hear a lot in the US.

POP CULTURE EXAMPLE: On Downton Abbey, the servants who assisted Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (and her daughters Mary, Edith, and Sybil), frequently referred to Cora (and daughters) as “milady.” It came up frequently as the servants discussed their work amongst themselves. It was also used in discussing clothes and jewelry with Cora, Mary, Edith, or Sybil directly. Instead of saying “you” and “your dress”, the servants’ said “milady” and “milady’s dress.” The female servant characters included Baxter, O’Brien, Anna (Smith), and Mrs. Hughes. [I stuck with servants’ maiden names for this post.] Here’s a clip of a conversation between Anna and Mary.

The male equivalent of milady is “milord,” which Bates the valet used in addressing Lord Grantham.

Malady (pronounced “muh-laid-ee”) is a noun. It means a problem or ailment being suffered by someone or something.

The following story uses both words correctly:

It was the Spring of 1892. Millicent was preparing milady’s dress ensemble for a formal dinner that evening. As she went to lay out the clothes, her elbow knocked over a bottle of ink onto the floor.

She had quite the malady on her hands trying to get that stain out of the rug. Thankfully the dress had been spared; it didn’t get damaged in the process.

Phew! Millicent thought. To replace it would cost up to 2 months’ salary. She already felt she and milady had an awkward relationship. 

This post is related to another post: Easily Confused Words: Melody and Malady.

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