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According to Wiktionary, the English "servant" has two meanings:

  1. One who serves another, providing help in some manner. (e.g. She is quite the humble servant, the poor in this city owe much to her but she expects nothing.)

  2. One who is hired to perform regular household or other duties, and receives compensation. As opposed to a slave. (e.g. There are three servants in the household, the butler and two maids.)

In Spanish, I have heard several different words for "servant":

  • sirviente
  • criado
  • siervo
  • servidor

What are the differences between these words? Which ones can be used to translate which of the English meanings? Do some have more positive or negative connotations than others? Which is most common?

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Try "Lacayo" :D –  Joze Mar 5 '12 at 22:29
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

For #2, these words should be equivalent:

  • Ama/o de llaves
  • Mayordomo (mostly used in the masculine form) (thanks, Javi)
  • Empleada/o del servicio (at least in Colombia, this is the most common on this context)
  • Criada/o (I've heard this one in Mexico)
  • Agregado/a (In Colombia is used to refer to people you employ at a farm to cultivate the land, perform maintenance, etc.)

For #1:

  • Servidor should be fine: Él es un humilde servidor, ayuda a todo el mundo con desinterés

The words Sirviente, Lacayo and Peón, which could be used in the context of #1, have bad connotation; they are offensive and shouldn't be used unless you want to offend someone.

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In Spain the equivalent of "Ama de llaves" for a man is usually called "Mayordomo" (instead of Amo de llaves, though it is also correct but far less common). And those terms refers to the servant with more responsibilities in the house. –  Javi Mar 6 '12 at 8:06
    
In Spain, "criada" is the same as "sirviente" (maybe "criada" has more negative connotations). "Lacayo" is used for those servants which went with the knights in the past. And "peón" is used for servants in building works. ("Peón" and "Lacayo" are not not negative in Spain). –  Javi Mar 6 '12 at 8:13
    
@Javi interesting what you mention about lacayo and peón, in Latinamerica both are used in negative contexts. Someone that works in construction is referred to as obrero de la construcción or in Colombia are also called Rusos. Hugo Chávez, for instance, always use the words lacayo and peón to refer to the opposition in his country or elsewhere, supposedly because they follow either orders from the "Empire (USA)" or work for the CIA. As far as sirvienta, in Colombia is incredibly mean to use it as a synonym for empleada del servicio doméstico. –  Icarus Mar 6 '12 at 11:50
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@Javi correct, that's one of the meanings but Peón is also: "1. m. Jornalero que trabaja en cosas materiales que no requieren arte ni habilidad." –  Icarus Mar 6 '12 at 12:33
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@jrdioko Siervo is sort of an archaism in the sense that this word is found on very old texts (think of the Bible) to refer to what nowadays we would call empleado, obrero, etc. A siervo is more like a slave (esclavo) nowadays, which is why this word is found frequently in old literature. Have you heard someone say something like "Tengo 10 siervos trabajando para mi" when referring to people? If I hear someone referring to another person as siervo I would feel offended. If you read the word in a newspaper, for example, it's probably used in the context of 21st-century slavery. –  Icarus Mar 6 '12 at 18:06
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