Damsel is an old french word (dameisele) for young woman or maidenDistress - noun 1. great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; acute physical or mental suffering; affliction; trouble. 2. a state of extreme necessity or misfortune. 3. the state of a ship or airplane requiring immediate assistance, as when on fire in transit. 4. that which causes pain, suffering, trouble, danger, etc. So 'damsel in distress' = 'young woman in trouble'.