Entries linking to self-serving
word forming element indicating "oneself," also "automatic," from Old English use of self (pron.) in compounds, such as selfbana "suicide," selflice "self-love, pride, vanity, egotism," selfwill "free will." Middle English had self-witte "one's own knowledge and intelligence" (early 15c.).
OED counts 13 such compounds in Old English. Middle English Compendium lists four, counting the self-will group as a whole. It re-emerges as a living word-forming element mid-16c., "probably to a great extent by imitation or reminiscence of Greek compounds in (auto-)," and formed a great many words in the pamphlet disputes of the 17c.
late 12c., serven, "to render habitual obedience to, owe allegiance to," also "minister, give aid, give help," from Old French servir "to do duty toward, show devotion to; set table, serve at table; offer, provide with," from Latin servire "be a servant, be in service, be enslaved;" figuratively "be devoted; be governed by; comply with; conform; flatter," originally "be a slave," related to servus "slave," which is of uncertain origin.
Perhaps from Etruscan (compare Etruscan proper names Servi, Serve, Latinized as Servius), but de Vaan says it is from Proto-Italic *serwo- "shepherd," *serwā- "observation," from PIE *seruo- "guardian" (source also of Avestan haraiti "heeds, protects"):
Rix 1994a argues that the original meaning of *serwo- probably was 'guard, shepherd', which underwent a pejorative development to 'slave' in Italy between 700 and 450 BC. Servire would be the direct derivative of servus, hence 'be a slave'; servare would in his view be derived from an older noun *serwa- or *serwom 'observation, heedance'.
It is attested by c. 1200 in widespread senses: "to be in the service of, perform a service for; attend or wait upon, be personal servant to; be a slave; owe allegiance to; officiate at Mass or other religious rites;" from early 13c. as "set food at table;" mid-14c. as "to wait on (customers)."
From late 14c. as "treat (someone or something) in some fashion." To serve (someone) right "treat as he deserves" is recorded from 1580s. Sense of "be useful, be beneficial, be suitable for a purpose or function" is from early 14c.; that of "take the place or meet the needs of, be equal to the task" is from late 14c.; that of "suffice" is from mid-15c.
The meaning "render active military service" is from 1510s. The sporting sense is attested by 1580s, first in tennis. The legal sense of "present" (a writ, warrant, etc.), "give legal notice of" is from early 15c. To serve hand and foot "minister to attentively" is by c. 1300.
He no schuld neuer wond
To seruen him fro fot to hond
["Amis and Amiloun," c. 1330]
updated on April 19, 2022