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From Persian/Urdu زنانه (zanānah), from زن (zan, woman).



zenana (plural zenanas)

  1. A harem on the Indian subcontinent; a part of the house reserved for high-caste women; a system of segregating women into harems.
    • 1888, Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Bisara of Pooree’, Plain Tales from the Hills, Folio Society 2005, p. 173:
      Depend upon it, Solomon would never have built altars to Ashtaroth and all those ladies with queer names, if there had not been trouble of some kind in his zenana, and nowhere else.
  2. An effeminate or crossdressing male in northern India or Pakistan. (Also spelled zanána.)
    • 1911, A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province:
      For some years past the zanánas have celebrated the Holi as a carnival. They assume female names, by which they are called in their own circle. Most of them are beardless youth; those who have beards shave them. Náz nakhra (flirtation) becomes their second nature.
    • 1999, Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India:
      In parts of North India, effeminate males who are assumed to play the passive role in homosexual relationships are referred to as zenana, literally meaning woman.

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