c. 1200, servaunt, "male or female personal or domestic attendant, one owing duty of service to a master or lord, one employed by another and subject to his orders," from Old French servant "servant; foot-soldier," noun use of servant "serving, waiting," present participle of servir "to attend, wait upon" (see serve (v.)).
From early 14c. as "a slave," also used of bees. In North American colonies and in U.S., it was the usual designation for "slave" 17c.-18c. (in 14c.-15c. and later in Biblical translations the word often was used to render Latin servus, Greek doulos "slave").
Also in Middle English "professed lover, one devoted to the service of a lady" (mid-14c.). In 14c.-16c. sometimes confused with sergeant. Public servant is attested from 1670s. Wycliffe (late 14c.) has servauntesse "female slave, maidservant, handmaiden."
updated on March 13, 2023