Prima donna literally means "first lady" in Italian. Merriam-Webster dates the first use of the term in 1782 when it referred to the principal female singer in Italian opera. However, outside the world of opera, describing somebody as a prima donna can have more derogatory connotations.
Prima Donna or Diva: You Choose
The Online Etymology Dictionary claims that the first recorded use of the term to describe a "temperamental person" dates from 1834. "Diva" is another operatic term used to describe a singer with an extraordinary voice or vocal range, such as Maria Callas. The terms prima donna and diva have become synonymous with describe people prone to tantrums or showing off and can apply to both genders. This usage came from the fact that many of the great operatic sopranos were prone to throwing tantrums offstage.
- Callas: Portrait of a Prima Donna; George Jellinek
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