Also found in: Thesaurus, Idioms.
1. A woman who is divorced or separated from her husband.
2. A woman whose husband is temporarily absent.
3. An abandoned mistress.
4. The mother of a child born out of wedlock.
[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 The grass in grass widow seems to have originally made reference to the makeshift bed of grass or hay (as opposed to a real bed with a mattress and sheets) on which a woman might lie with her lover before he rises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.
1. a woman divorced, separated, or living away from her spouse
2. a woman whose spouse is regularly away for short periods
[C16, meaning a discarded mistress: perhaps an allusion to a grass bed as representing an illicit relationship; compare bastard; C19 in the modern sense]
1. a woman who is separated, divorced, or lives apart from her husband.
2. a woman whose husband is often away from home.
3. Chiefly Dial.
a. a mistress who has been cast aside.
b. a woman who has borne an illegitimate child.
[1520–30; the first element perhaps orig. alluding to a bed of grass, hay, or the like; compare Dutch grasweduwe, German Strohwitwe literally, straw-widow]