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[sur-vil, -vahyl] /ˈsɜr vɪl, -vaɪl/
slavishly submissive or obsequious; fawning:
servile flatterers.
characteristic of, proper to, or customary for slaves; abject:
servile obedience.
yielding slavishly; truckling (usually followed by to).
extremely imitative, especially in the arts; lacking in originality.
being in slavery; oppressed.
of, relating to, or involving slaves or servants.
of or relating to a condition of servitude or property ownership in which a person is held as a slave or as partially enslaved:
medieval rebellions against servile laws.
Origin of servile
1350-1400; Middle English < Latin servīlis, equivalent to serv- (stem of servīre to be a slave) + -īlis -ile
Related forms
servilely, adverb
servility, servileness, noun
nonservile, adjective
nonservilely, adverb
nonservileness, noun
overservile, adjective
overservilely, adverb
overservileness, noun
overservility, noun
pseudoservile, adjective
pseudoservilely, adverb
unservile, adjective
unservilely, adverb
1, 2. cringing, sycophantic. Servile, menial, obsequious, slavish characterize one who behaves like a slave or an inferior. Servile suggests cringing, fawning, and abject submission: servile responses to questions. Menial applies to that which is considered undesirable drudgery: the most menial tasks. Obsequious implies the ostentatious subordination of oneself to the wishes of another, either from fear or from hope of gain: an obsequious waiter. Slavish stresses the dependence and labori-ous toil of one who follows or obeys without question: slavish attentiveness to orders. 2. mean, base, low.
1. aggressive. 2. exalted. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for servile
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The individual citizen is the most servile and unthinking person in any civilized country of the world to-day.

    Socialism and American ideals William Starr Myers
  • My brother was servile; he has attached himself to the retinue of a wealthy Baroness.

    City of Endless Night Milo Hastings
  • I have said already that the succession of the youngest son appears with merchet, reeveship, etc., as a servile custom.

    Villainage in England Paul Vinogradoff
  • Aught else than servile obedience in accomplishing the mandates of those in power?

    Mysticism and its Results John Delafield
  • He is impatient of my suggestion that the fault may lie with a servile press.

    Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist Alexander Berkman
  • For the purpose of deceiving "Slim" he must keep a mask of servile fear on his face.

    Spring Street James H. Richardson
British Dictionary definitions for servile


obsequious or fawning in attitude or behaviour; submissive
of or suitable for a slave
existing in or relating to a state of slavery
when postpositive, foll by to. submitting or obedient
Derived Forms
servilely, adverb
servility (sɜːˈvɪlɪtɪ), servileness, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Latin servīlis, from servus slave
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for servile

late 14c., from Latin servilis "of a slave" (as in Servile Wars, name given to the slave revolts in the late Roman Republic), also "slavish, servile," from servus "slave" (see serve (v.)). Earliest sense was legal, servile work being forbidden on the Sabbath; sense of "cringing, fawning" first recorded c.1600.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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