Chaperone (social)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

A chaperone (also spelled chaperon) in its original social usage was a person who for propriety's sake accompanied an unmarried girl in public: usually she was an older married woman, and most commonly the girl's own mother.

In modern social usage, a chaperon (frequent in British spelling) or chaperone (usual in American spelling) is a responsible adult who accompanies and supervises young people. By extension, the word chaperone is used in clinical contexts.


Mrs Chambers (chaperone), Bonnie Mealing, Clare Dennis, Frances Bult, Eileen Wearne, Thelma Kench (N.Z. sprinter) at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles

The word derives figuratively from the French word chaperon (originally from the Late Latin cappa, meaning "cape") which referred to a hood that was worn by men and women generally.[1] A chaperone was part of the costume of the Knights of the Garter when they were in full dress[2] and, probably, since the Knights were court attendants, the word chaperon changed to mean escort. An alternative explanation comes from the sport of falconry, where the word meant the hood placed over the head of a bird of prey to stop its desire to fly.[citation needed]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the noun (in its figurative sense of escort of females) is attested from 1721, and the verb 'to chaperon' from 1811.

Traditional institution[edit]

Although the supervision of vulnerable females in public spaces may be common in many cultures, the specific word chaperon began to be used in the eighteenth century to denote a particular social institution, namely, the person (normally a married woman) who would accompany a young unmarried woman in public, and especially where she might be expected to meet a man.

English-speaking cultures supposed, perhaps correctly, that the institution was particularly strict in southern Europe, especially in Spain, to which it attributed the word "dueña",[3] whence the English duenna.

Chaperones for young men were not commonly employed in Western society until the latter half of the 20th century.

Current usage[edit]

Chaperones may be resisted and resented by the young people being supervised. The practice of one-on-one chaperones for social occasions has largely fallen out of use in Western society, though the term is often applied to parents and teachers who supervise school dances and field trips.

In modern-day cinema, theatre and television productions where the cast includes children (and other areas such as sport or modelling) there can be a legal obligation[4] to have a staff role of chaperone, responsible for their general safety and well-being while away from their parents. Chaperones must be qualified in specialist childcare areas such as paediatric first aid, child protection, and all required reporting and workforce requirements.

In culture[edit]

In drama, probably the best known example of a plot revolving around the need for, and lack of, a chaperone is Brandon Thomas's farce Charley's Aunt (1892).

The chaperone is spoofed in the 2006 musical The Drowsy Chaperone.

Cosmo Kramer acts as a chaperone for Jerry Seinfeld and Miss Rhode Island on an episode of Seinfeld.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chaperon". The Free Dictionary By Farlex. Retrieved 2012-06-16. 
  2. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Chaperon". Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 851. 
  3. ^ An English derivation of the Spanish word dueña, supposed to denote a particularly eagle-eyed supervisor of unmarried females. In fact, in Spain the word dueña (from the Latin domina) has no particular connotations of chaperonage, and merely denotes a female proprietor, supervisor of servants, or married woman. In Spain a chaperon is called a carabinera; the word chaperona is not usually found except in Central America. (Diccionario de la Real Academia Espańola: "dueña", "carabiners", "chaperon".)
  4. ^ "Child employment". UK Government. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Chaperones at Wikimedia Commons