AskDefine | Define menial

Dictionary Definition

menial adj : used of unskilled work (especially domestic work) [syn: humble, lowly] n : a domestic servant [syn: dogsbody]

User Contributed Dictionary



meinial, from meignial, from meignee, household, from mansionata, from mansio, mansion.


  • mē'nēəl, /ˈmiːniəl/, /"mi:ni@l/


  1. Of or relating to work normally performed by a servant.
  2. Of or relating to unskilled work.


  1. A servant, especially a domestic servant.
  2. A person who has a subservient nature.
    His sister was a menial girl, but he sought to help her develop a mind of her own.

Extensive Definition

A domestic worker, domestic, or servant is one who works, and often also lives, within the employer's household. They are distinguishable from serfs or slaves in that they are compensated, that is, they must receive payment (and, following labour reforms in the 20th Century, benefits) for their work. They are also free to leave their employment at any time, although foreign workers may find these freedoms restricted by, for example, visa regulations. In large households, there can be a large number of domestic workers doing different jobs, often as part of an elaborate hierarchy. However, most such employees work in middle class households, where they are the only servant.
Domestic workers take care of the household and its dependent members. They perform domestic chores such as washing, ironing, buying foods and drinks, accompanying the head of the household for grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning the house. They may also run errands and walk the family dog. For many domestic workers, a large part of their job is taking care of the children. If there are elderly or disabled people in the household, domestic workers may care for them as well.


Domestic service, or the employment of people for wages in their employer's residence, was sometimes simply called "service". It evolved into a hierarchical system in various countries at various times.
Prior to the labour reforms of the 20th century, servants, and workers in general, had no protection in law. The only real advantage that service provided was the provision of meals and accommodation, and sometimes clothes, in addition to the modest wage. Also, service was an apprentice system; there was room for advancement through the ranks. However, it was also perilous, particularly for females, as there was no protection from unscrupulous employers or other members of the family, including sexual exploitation.
In Britain this system peaked towards the close of the Victorian era, perhaps reaching its most complicated and rigidly structured state during the Edwardian period, which reflected the limited social mobility of the time. The equivalent in the United States was the Gilded Age.

Current situation around the world

Throughout the world, most domestic workers are from the same country in which they work. Most of the world's population lives in countries with very large differences in the income of urban and rural households. Briefly put, there are a lot of poor people who are willing to move to the cities for the promise of work. As with workers in Europe and North America, they may live at home, though they are usually "live-in" domestics, meaning they receive room and board as part of their salaries; sometimes they only receive room and board. Because of the large gap between urban and rural incomes, and the lack of employment opportunities in the countryside, even an ordinary middle class urban family can afford to employ a full-time live-in servant. The majority of domestic workers in China Mexico and India, to choose two populous examples, are people from the rural areas who are employed by urban families.
In Brazil, domestic workers must be hired under a registered contract and have most of the rights of any other workers, which includes a minimum wage, remunerated vacancies and a remunerated weekly day off. It is not uncommon, however, to hire servants without registering them. Since servants come almost always from the lower, uneducated classes, they are sometimes ignorant of their rights, especially in the rural zone. Nevertheless, domestics employed without a proper contract sometimes sue their employers to get compensation from abuses.

Domestic work and international migration

Many countries import domestic workers from abroad, usually poorer countries, through recruitment agencies and brokers because their own nationals are no longer obliged or inclined to work in underpaid, difficult or exploitive jobs. This includes most Middle Eastern countries, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. For most of these countries, the number of domestic workers run into the hundreds of thousands. There are at least one million domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.
Major sources of domestic workers include the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia. Taiwan also imports domestic workers from Vietnam and Mongolia. Organizations such as Kalayaan support the growing number of these migrant domestic workers.


Employers may require their domestic workers to wear a uniform or other "domestic workers' clothes" when in their employers' home. The uniform is usually simple, and was even back in the 19th century and 20th century. Female servants would wear long, plain, dark-coloured dresses or a black skirt with white belt and a white blouse or shirt, and black high-heeled shoes, and male servants and butlers would wear something from a simple suit, down to a white shirt, often with tie, and knickers.


Many domestic workers are live-in domestics. Though they often have their own quarters, their accommodations are not usually as comfortable as those reserved for the family members. In some cases, they sleep in the kitchen or small rooms, such as a box room, sometimes located in the basement or attic.

Different domestic worker jobs

See also

External links

menial in German: Dienstbote
menial in Esperanto: Servisto
menial in Spanish: Trabajador doméstico
menial in French: Domesticité
menial in Hebrew: משרת
menial in Indonesian: Pekerja rumah tangga
menial in Italian: maggiordomo
menial in Japanese: 家庭内労働者
menial in Norwegian: Tjener (person)
menial in Portuguese: empregado doméstico
menial in Russian: Прислуга
menial in Simple English: Servant
menial in Finnish: Palvelija
menial in Swedish: Tjänstefolk
menial in Chinese: 僕人

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

attendant, attending, base, blue-collar worker, bootlicker, breadwinner, brown-nosing, casual, casual laborer, common laborer, cringing, day laborer, degrading, demeaning, domestic, domestic servant, drudge, employee, factory worker, fag, fawning, flattering, flunky, free lance, free-lancer, full-time worker, gofer, hand, help, helping, humble, ignoble, industrial worker, jobber, jobholder, laborer, laboring man, lackey, leech, lickspittle, low, lowly, mean, migrant, minion, ministering, moiler, navvy, obeisant, obsequious, office temporary, parasite, proletarian, roustabout, routine, salaried worker, scullion, self-employed person, serf, servant, servile, serving, servitor, servitorial, slave, slavey, slavish, stiff, submissive, subservient, sycophant, sycophantic, temporary, toady, toadying, toiler, turnspit, underling, unskilled, wage earner, wage slave, wageworker, waiting, worker, workgirl, workhand, working girl, workingman, workingwoman, workman, yes-man
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