The word "odalisque" is French in form and originates from the Turkish odalık, meaning "chambermaid", from oda, "chamber" or "room". It can also be transliterated odahlic, odalisk, and odaliq.
Joan DelPlato has described the term's shift in meaning from Turkish to English and French:
The English and French term odalisque (rarely odalique) derives from the Turkish 'oda', meaning "chamber"; thus an odalisque originally meant a chamber girl or attendant. In western usage, the term has come to refer specifically to the harem concubine. By the eighteenth century the term odalisque referred to the eroticized artistic genre in which a nominally eastern woman lies on her side on display for the spectator.
An odalık was not a concubine of the harem, but a maid, even if it was possible that she could become one. An odalık was ranked at the bottom of the social stratification of a harem, serving not the man of the household, but rather, his concubines and wives as personal chambermaids. Odalık were usually slaves given as gifts to the sultan by wealthy Turkish men. Generally, an odalık was never seen by the sultan but instead remained under the direct supervision of his mother, the Valide Sultan.
If an odalık was of extraordinary beauty or had exceptional talents in dancing or singing, she would be trained as a possible concubine. If selected, an odalık trained as a concubine would serve the sultan sexually and only after such sexual contact would she change in status, becoming thenceforth a concubine. In the Ottoman Empire, concubines encountered the sultan only once, unless she was especially skilled in dance, singing, or the sexual arts, thus gaining his attention. If a concubine's contact with the sultan resulted in the birth of a son, she would become one of his wives.