Dame

In the UK, there is still a system of formal social ranking. There are still hereditary princes and dukes, and some of them maintain substantial wealth and property, despite 20th century tax policies that broke up most of the age-old propertied classes. Another aspect of that system, one still quite alive, is honoring achievement by conferring, it is called, knighthood upon a person. This is an honorary social rank. It has sometimes honored real achievements and real contributions to British society, and sometimes it has simply honored the accumulation of wealth. Unlike other ranks in the system, knighthood is not inherited. Knighthood recently has honored achievements in music, politics and science. Someone knighted can use Sir in front of his name. Knights are male. What about women knights? The system offers a slightly different path to the rank. Women aren’t knighted, exactly, but are granted positions in honorary organizations and they can use the title Dame in front of their name. Dame is the woman’s version of the men’s title Sir. The term has puzzled Americans, for whom “dame” was for many years simply a slang term for a woman. That slang is now close to extinct.

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