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From Hindi, Urdu زنانه (zanānah), from Persian زنانه (zanānah, womanly), 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.
    • 1993, William Dalrymple, City of Djinns, Penguin 2004, p. 59:
      Yet inside the walls of the havelis and the lattice screens of the zenana, life goes on as it always did.
    • 1997, Kiran Nagarkar, Cuckold, HarperCollins 2013, p. 84:
      Out of the blue, the chief eunuch of the zenana appears.
  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.
  3. (Can we verify(+) this sense?) (slang) a relentlessly nagging wife, a shrew
    • 2011, In Gaza, lives shaped by drones
      Roughly translated, zenana means buzz. But in neighboring Egypt, a source of Gaza custom and culture, the term is slang used to describe a relentlessly nagging wife.
  4. (Can we verify(+) this sense?) (slang) an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
    • 2011, In Gaza, lives shaped by drones
      Then, pointing to the sky, one muttered, “Zenana, zenana.” The word is the Arabic term that Gazans have given to Israel’s drone aircraft,

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