AskDefine | Define butler

Dictionary Definition

butler n : a manservant (usually the head servant of a household) who has charge of wines and the table [syn: pantryman]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Butler




  1. A manservant having charge of wines and liquors.
  2. 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.

Derived terms


chief male servant


  1. To buttle, to dispense wines or liquors; to take the place of a butler.

Extensive Definition

A butler is a senior servant in a large household. In the great houses of the past, the household was sometimes divided into departments with the butler in charge of the dining room, wine cellar, and pantries. Some also have charge of the entire parlour floor, and housekeepers caring for entire house and its appearance. Housekeepers are occasionally portrayed in literature as being the most senior staff member and as even making recommendations for the hiring of the butler.


In modern houses where the butler is the most senior worker, titles such as majordomo, butler administrator, house manager, manservant, staff manager, estate manager and head of household staff are sometimes given. The precise duties of the employee will vary to some extent in line with the title given, but perhaps more importantly in line with the requirements of the individual employer.
The earliest literary mention of a butler is probably that of the man whose release from prison was predicted by Joseph in the biblical account of Joseph's interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh's servants. The word "butler" derives from the Old French bouteillier, (cup bearer), from bouteille, (bottle) and ultimately from Latin. The role of the butler, for centuries, has been that of the chief steward of a household, the attendant entrusted with the care and serving of wine and other bottled beverages which in ancient times might have represented a considerable portion of the household's assets.
In Britain the butler was originally a middle ranking member of the staff of a grand household. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the butler gradually became the usually senior male member of a household's staff in the very grandest households there was sometimes a steward who ran the entire estate, rather than just the household, and who was senior to the butler into the nineteenth century. Butlers used to always be attired in a special uniform, distinct from the livery of junior servants, but today a butler is more likely to wear a business suit or business casual clothing and appear in uniform only on special occasions.
Butlers used to work their way up from the bottom and belong to clubs in larger cities such as London, but today, tend to go to butler schools and belong to guilds such as The International Institute of Modern Butlers and The Guild of Professional English Butlers. Butlers are also found in hotels, corporate settings, yachts, and embassies, and are available as temporary service providers.


As a surname "Butler" was originated by Theobald le Botiller FitzWalter (Lord of Preston). Lord FitzWalter accompanied Henry II into Ireland, and was appointed hereditary Chief Butler of Ireland in 1177. This title can be defined as Governor by today's standards. He was granted land holdings of Baggotrath, County Dublin, and the Stein River lands around what is now Trinity College Dublin. His son, Theobalde Butler, was the first to hold the name and pass it to his descendants.

Butlers in literature


The real-life butler is supposed to be discreet and unobtrusive. The butler of fiction, by contrast, often tends to be larger-than-life and has become a plot device in literature and a traditional role in the performing arts. Butlers may provide comic relief with wry comments, clues as to the perpetrators of various crimes and are represented as at least as intelligent and moral, or even more so, than their “betters”. They are often portrayed as being serious and expressionless and in the case that the wealthy hero be an orphan--such as Batman, Chrono Crusade's Satella Harvenheit, or Tomb Raider's Lara Croft--be a father figure to said hero. The fictional butler tends to be given a typical Anglo-Celtic surname and have a British accent.
Today, butlers are usually portrayed as being refined and well-spoken. However, in nineteenth century fiction such as Dracula, butlers generally spoke with a strong cockney or other regional accent.
"The butler" is integral to the plot of countless potboilers and melodramas, whether or not the character has been given a name. Butlers figure so prominently in period pieces and whodunits that they can be considered stock characters in film and theatre where a catch phrase is "the butler did it!"
See valet for a list of characters who are often mistaken for butlers, but strictly speaking are valets, rather than butlers, such as Jeeves though as Jeeves' employer Wooster has noted, when the occasion demands Jeeves "can buttle with the best of them".


*Clive McGonigal, founder of The Butler Bureau
butler in French: Bouteiller
butler in Italian: Maggiordomo
butler in Macedonian: Батлер
butler in Dutch: Butler
butler in Portuguese: Mordomo
butler in Indonesian: Butler
butler in Japanese: バトラー
butler in Swedish: Butler

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1