Looking at modern sliding folding ladders made of stainless alloys and heavy-duty plastics, you would not think that the word "ladder" has been used in Russian for a very long time, it is more than one hundred years old.
Origin of the word
The word "stepladder" is a derivative, it comes from the word "stirrup". We find such an explanation in the "Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language" by V. I. Dahl.
When the rider mounts the horse, he inserts his leg into the stirrup; that is, this part of the riding horse harness, as it were, plays the role of a step, a ladder. Thus, "stirrup" and "step-ladder" are very close words, related not only in sound, but also in meaning.
What kind of ladder can be called a stepladder
The main feature of a ladder is not that it is sliding, and not even that it is folding, but that, unlike other ladders, it is portable. For example, a ladder on fire trucks, although sliding, can hardly be called a stepladder. Nowadays, the stepladder is most often used in construction, various repairs, it is used by painters, plasterers, electricians … You can often see a stepladder in libraries, climb on it to get books from the upper shelves; such a ladder is often made on wheels to make it easier to move.
You must have seen in some film an old professor sitting high on a stepladder under the ceiling and delving into a thick tome, against the backdrop of endless shelves lined with books …
The great “collector” of Russian words, Vladimir Ivanovich Dal, in his dictionary explains what a step-ladder is: “a small handy ladder, for bookcases, for cleaning rooms, on legs, or a folding, or board, with ice holes, a lazne, or with stuffed bars, gangway, or rope, hanging ladder."
In the "Explanatory Dictionary" V. I. Dahl cites an interesting proverb associated with this word: "What to steal yourself, what to a thief to hold a ladder, everything is one."
That's even how! It turns out that the hanging ladder is also a stepladder! To a modern person, such a name for a rope ladder will probably seem strange. Say somewhere that the Count of Monte Cristo came down from the prison window on a stepladder. Why, they will laugh at you! However, oddly enough, there will be no error here. So in the famous "Explanatory Dictionary" by S. I. Ozhegov, created relatively recently, in the middle of the twentieth century, the same interpretation of this word is given: "a light portable or suspended staircase."
Noteworthy is the following characteristic given by V. I. Dahlem: an assistant. Probably, if the ladder is "handy", then, from whatever materials it is made and no matter how it looks, it will be a ladder.