(bldm) Forms: 5-9 beldame, 7 belldame, 5- beldam. [Not a direct adoption of the F. belle dame ‘fair lady,’ but formed upon dam, earlier dame, in its Eng. sense of ‘mother,’ with bel- employed to express relationship, as in belsire, belfader: see BEL B. For the transference to a more remote ancestor see also BELSIRE; for the extension to old woman, etc., cf. gaffer, gammer, goody, grandame, granny.]
1. A father or mother's mother, a grandmother. Also fig. Obs.
c1440 Promp. Parv.
], faders and moders modyr, bothe. 1483 Cath. Angl.
27 Beldame, auia
. c1483 CAXTON Bk. Trav.
in Promp. Parv.
29 note, Recommaunde me to your bel-fadre, and to your bel dame, à vostre tayon et à vostre taye
. 1530 PALSGR.
179/2 Beldame, meregrant
. c1550 PAYNELL
tr. Vives' Duty Husb.
(T.) The mother, the beldame, the aunt, the sister, the cosyn. 1593 SHAKES. Lucr.
953 To shew the beldame daughters of her daughter. 1613 DRAYTON Polyolb.
vi. (T.) The beldam and the girl, the grandsire and the boy. 1628 MILTON Vac. Exerc.
46 When beldam Nature in her cradle was
b. A great-grandmother, or still more remote ancestress; by Plot used for a woman who has lived to see five generations of female descendants.
1679 PLOT Staffordsh.
(1686) 322 She lived to be a Beldam, that is to see the sixt generation. 1863 CHAMBERS Bk. of Days
I. 306 At the same rate she might have been beldam at sixty six.
2. An aged woman, a matron of advanced years. (In 16th c. used in addressing nurses.)
1580 GIFFORD Gilloflowers
(1875) 98 And thus..This aged beldam speakes. 1596 SPENSER F.Q. III
. ii. 43 [To ‘her aged nourse’] ‘Beldame, your words doe worke me litle ease.’ 1598 DRAYTON Heroic. Ep.
xix. 15 Here is no Beldam Nurse, to powt nor lowre. 1709 STEELE Tatler
No. 83 2
, I am neither Childish-young, nor Beldam-old. 1752 FOOTE Taste I
. i, This superannuated Beldame gapes for Flattery. 1768 BEATTIE Minstr. I
. xliii, Her legend when the Beldame 'gan impart. 1821 BYRON Sardan. I
. ii. (1868) 352 That blood-loving beldame, My martial grandam. 1856 LONGFELLOW Blind Girl I
. 122 The beldame, wrinkled and gray takes the young bride by the hand.
3. esp. with depreciative sense: A loathsome old woman, a hag; a witch; a furious raging woman (without the notion of age), a virago.
a1586 SIDNEY Arcadia
(1613) 10 A beldame..accused for a witch. 1608 R. JOHNSON Sev. Champions
212 Come all you witches, beldames, and Fortunetellers. a1641 BP. R. MONTAGU Acts & Mon.
(1642) 177 Tarquinius taking her to be some frantick Beldame. 1706 ADDISON Rosamond I
. iii, Fly from my passion, Baldame, fly! 1822 SCOTT Nigel
xxxv, That accursed beldam whom she caused to work upon me. 1857
F. LOCKER Lond. Lyrics
(1862) 100 The beldams shriek, the caldron bubbles.