1 : of or befitting a menial position
2 : meanly or cravenly submissive : abject
Did You Know?
Latin served us servile with the help of servilis, itself from servus, the Latin word for “slave.” Servus is also an ancestor of serve, service, and servitude. Synonyms of servile in English include subservient, slavish, and obsequious. Subservient implies the cringing manner of someone who is very conscious of having a subordinate position. Slavish suggests abject or debased servitude. Obsequious implies fawning or sycophantic compliance and exaggerated deference of manner. Servile suggests the fawning behavior of one in forced servitude.
“Ms. [Judith] Jamison remembers Ailey’s teaching her ‘Cry’ in the company’s original studios…. ‘It took Alvin eight days to choreograph…. Our musicality was always very close. He wonderfully combined movement and emotion, so little explanation was necessary. I was to be a woman who did the most servile of work but was never defeated by it. I was a mother protecting her children. I was a queen who’d come from Africa.'” — Valerie Gladstone, The New York Times, 26 Nov. 2000
“They, while submitting implicitly to his influence, never acknowledged, because they never reflected on, his superiority; they were quite tractable, therefore, without running the smallest danger of being servile….” — Charlotte Brontë, Shirley, 1849