Adventures in Etymology – Butler

In this Adventure we’re unbottling the origins of the word butler.

Butler on recent Production

A butler [ˈbʌt.lə(ɹ)/ˈbʌt.lɚ] is:

  • A manservant having charge of wines and liquors.
  • The chief male servant of a household who has charge of other employees, receives guests, directs the serving of meals, and performs various personal services.

It comes from Middle English boteler (the chief servant in charge of wine or other drink, the cupbearer of a king or nobleman), from Old French boteiller (one who takes care of the bottles), from boteille (bottle), possibly from Vulgar Latin *buticla (bottle), from Late Latin butticula (bottle), from buttis (cask, barrel) [source].

Words from the same roots include bottle, butt (large cask), and possibly boot in English, and bouteille (bottle, cylinder) and maybe botte (boot, bundle, bunch) in French.

Incidentally, another person involved with bottles and wine is a sommelier (a wine steward, waiter or server). It comes from French sommelier (originally, a person in charge of the beasts of burden carrying wine), from somme (pack), from Latin sagma (packsaddle) [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

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