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A search for 乙女 on jisho.org shows the word 少女 as a result, and doesn't give a distinction between the two terms, just listing that the word 少女 has "many forms":

  • 少女 【しょうじょ】
  • 少女 【おとめ】
  • 小女 【しょうじょ】
  • 乙女 【おとめ】

Are the four forms fully interchangeable, or are there nuances in the meaning?

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  • 少女【しょうじょ】 is the most common among the four, and is a neutral word meaning girl. Although this is common in novels and news articles, this still is a big word and people don't usually use it in casual conversations.
  • 乙女【おとめ】 is rarer and is commonly translated as maiden. You would find this in certain stilted novels, poems, lyrics, and such. It focuses on girls' chastity and innocence.
  • 少女【おとめ】 is a rare reading of 少女 found only in historical contexts.
  • 小女【しょうじょ】 is very rare and I'm not even sure if this is correct.

I think you can safely forget the last two.

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  • Thanks. It's important to remember that jisho.org (and the EDICT data it is based on) emphasises comprehensiveness, and so includes lots of rare/archaic forms of words just in case you need to look them up. It doesn't tell you which ones are archaic so be careful. (Jisho in particular always shows the kanji form of a word if available, even if it's not in common usage). – rjh Oct 18 '16 at 22:10
  • @rjh Yes, but jisho.org helps me a lot to judge which is the most common English word. By contrast, ALC is targeted at Japanese audience, and is a very comprehensive dictionary which contains very rare English words. But it can almost always give relatively easy, natural and common Japanese translations at least to the native speakers. No one wants to look up the Japanese word with another J-J dictionary again :) – naruto Oct 19 '16 at 3:49
  • So it's the same in JP as well. 'wazzock' is my favourite, it's British slang :) – rjh Oct 20 '16 at 21:04
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AS far as I know they are all variations of the exact same word, but the reading おとめ is quite less frequent and perhaps more appropriate for fancy meanings such a "maiden" or "young virgin" along with the fancy kanji 乙女. I've seen it in a few video games where you have to go rescue the poor maiden in distress etc... But in real life, I'm not sure I ever heard it.

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