Fiction is rife with minions.
The word minion showed up in English about 1500 from a Middle French word meaning darling or favorite. Somehow on its way across the pond, a less favorable meaning emerged, so that minion in English originally meant one who pleases rather than benefits. Today it mostly means a fawning servant.
Sometimes, we might refer to a minion as a sidekick, a word that showed up in American English in 1901 meaning a companion or close associate. Sidekick came from one of three words popular in the 1800s: side-kicker, side-pal, & side-partner.
In the late 1700s, foot servants walked beside the noble’s coaches, on the coaches’ flanks. From flanks came flankers & flankies, and from flankies came the now-inglorious word flunkies. Born in Scotland, the word flunkies had no negative connotation until the mid-1800s (in writing, anyway), though the modern meaning flatterer or toady may have been associated with this word much earlier in common speech.
Those flankers, flankies or flunkies who walked or ran abreast of the nobles’ coaches could also be called lackeys. Etymologists aren’t certain where lackey came from, but some possibilities include:
-an Old Provencal word meaning covetous
-an Old French word meaning the judge
-an Old Spanish word meaning runner
Today, lackey means a servile follower.
The word toady appears to have come from the earlier form, toad-eater some time in the early 1800s. Two centuries earlier, a toad-eater was the unfortunate assistant of a charlatan, who was forced to eat a toad so his/her charlatan could access magical powers. Once the word was shortened to toady, the meaning generalized to fawning flatterer or servile parasite.
In the 1600s the term footlicker was used to refer to a servile flatterer. By 1846, it grew into the term bootlicker.
Which of the words above really resonate for you for a fawning servant? Please let me know in the comments section
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline. (image from clipartmag.com)
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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