c. 1100, "celebration of public religious worship according to prescribed forms or methods," from Old French servise "act of homage; servitude; service at table; Mass, church ceremony," from Latin servitium (in Medieval Latin also servicium) "slavery, condition of a slave, servitude," also "slaves collectively" (in Medieval Latin "service"), from servus "slave" (see serve (v.)).
The meaning "act of serving, occupation of an attendant servant" is attested from c. 1200, as is that of "assistance, help; a helpful act." From c. 1300 as "provision of food; sequence of dishes served in a meal;" from late 14c. as "service at table, attendance during a meal." The sense of "the furniture of the table" (tea service, etc.) is from mid-15c.
Meanings "state of being bound to undertake tasks for someone or at someone's direction" and "labor performed or undertaken for another" are mid-13c. The sense of "service or employment in a court or administration" is from c. 1300, as is that of "military service (especially by a knight); employment as a soldier;" hence "the military as an occupation" (1706).
The meaning "the supplying of electricity, water, gas, etc., for domestic use" is by 1879; later extended to broadcasting (1927), etc. The meaning "expert care or assistance given by manufacturers or dealers to the purchasers of their goods" is by 1919. Service industry (as distinct from production) is attested from 1938; service there indicates the section of the economy that supplies consumer needs but makes no tangible goods (a sense attested by 1936). Service-charge is attested by 1929. A service station originally was a gas stop that also repaired cars.
At your service as a phrase of politeness is attested by c. 1600. Service-book, containing forms for public worship, is attested from 1570s. Also in Middle English, service was "the devotion or suit of a lover" (late 14c.), and "sexual intercourse, conjugal relations" (mid-15c.; service of Venus, or flesh's service).
1832, "public street carriage," originally a colloquial abbreviation of omnibus (q.v.). The modern English noun is nothing but a Latin dative plural ending. To miss the bus, in the figurative sense of "lose an opportunity," is from 1901, Australian English (OED has a figurative miss the omnibus from 1886). Busman's holiday "leisure time spent participating in what one does for a living" (1893) probably is a reference to London omnibus drivers riding the buses on their days off.
Sometimes a new play opens, and we have a wild yearning to see it. So we ask for a holiday, and spend the holiday seeing the other show. You know the London omnibus driver, when he takes a holiday, enjoys it by riding around on another omnibus. So we call it a 'busman's holiday' when we recuperate at another theater! [English actress Lily Elise in "The Girl Who Made Good," Cosmopolitan, December 1911]
1838, "to travel by omnibus," from bus (n.). The transitive meaning "transport students to integrate schools" is from 1961, American English. The meaning "clear tables in a restaurant" is by 1892, probably from the use of the noun in reference to four-wheeled carts used to carry dishes. Related: Bused; busing.
1893, "to provide with service," from service (n.1). Middle English servisen was "to serve (someone) as a knight or retainer" (c. 1300), from the noun, but it seems to have died with the feudal system and the modern verb likely is a re-coinage. Meaning "perform routine maintenance work on" is by 1926. Related: Serviced; servicing.
type of tree native to continental Europe; also the fruit or berry of it, 1520s, servyse, serves, an extended form of earlier serve "the service tree" (perhaps via Middle English plural serves being taken as a singular), from Old English syrfe, Old French sorbe, both of which are from Vulgar Latin *sorbea, from Latin sorbus (see sorb). Service-berry is attested from 1570s; service-tree by c. 1600.
"the executive branch of the public service," as distinguished from the military, naval, legislative, or judicial, 1765, originally in reference to non-military staff of the East India Company, from civil in the sense "not military." Civil servant is from 1792.
"something proffered but not performed, service with the lips only; insincere profession of good will," 1640s, from lip (n.) + service (n.1). Earlier in same sense was lip-labour (1530s). This was a general pattern in 16c.-17c., for example lip-wisdom (1580s), the wisdom of those who do not practice what they preach; lip-religion (1590s), lip-devotion "prayer without genuine faith or desire" (c. 1600); lip-comfort (1630s).