How Old Is “A Woman of a Certain Age”?

If you have ever heard the phrase “a woman of a certain age”, you may have considered it unhelpfully vague. What exactly does “a certain age” mean?

Well, the cryptic nature of this expression may actually be intentional. So, let’s look at what this phrase really means in context.

How Old Is “A Woman of a Certain Age”?

“A woman of a certain age” tends to refer to a woman who is no longer considered “young”. In other words, it refers to a woman who is middle-aged or older. For example, one might say “hot flashes are normal for a woman of a certain age”.

A Woman of a Certain Age

This phrase is an example of a euphemism, used to omit information that may be considered impolite.

The Collins Dictionary defines “of a certain age” as meaning “of an unspecified age but no longer young”. As such, the precise age of the woman is usually not determinable, but can be estimated based on the context in which the phrase is used:

  • You’ll find that frequent doctor’s visits are normal for a woman of a certain age.
  • Bouldering is fun but perhaps not appropriate for a woman of a certain age.

How Old Is “A Man of a Certain Age”?

Just like “a woman of a certain age”, “a man of a certain age” typically refers to a man who is no longer a young man.

As such, “a man of a certain age” could be middle-aged or older. The estimated age of the man will depend on the context in which one uses the phrase:

  • Buying an absurdly fancy car is somewhat of a rite of passage for a man of a certain age.
  • Someone should tell Leo DiCaprio that relationships with ladies under 25 are inappropriate for a man of a certain age.

Where Does the Phrase Come From?

The phrase “a woman of a certain age” appears to have come from the 18th century.

According to the Free Dictionary, the use of this phrase was first recorded in 1754 in England. More particularly, it was used in an issue of the Connoisseur, a satirical magazine popular in London at the time:

  • I could not help wishing on this occasion that some middle term was invented between Miss and Mrs. to be adopted, at a certain age, by all females not inclined to matrimony.

It is suggested that the phrase is inspired by the French expression, d’un certain âge, which appears to have developed in the 1600s.

Synonyms

There are a number of potential alternatives for the phrase “a woman of a certain age”. Some of these phrases might be considered less polite, but most are suitable in the same contexts as the original phrase. 

  • An older woman
  • A mature woman
  • A middle-aged woman
  • An elderly woman
  • A woman who is long in the tooth.

Conclusion

The phrase “a woman of a certain age” is a euphemism used to avoid stating expressly how old a woman is. It generally refers to women who are no longer considered “young”, and who are, therefore, middle-aged or older.

The expression developed from a satirical magazine in 18th-century London and appears to be used in a tongue-in-cheek manner more often than not.