Service (as a verb)

  • Service was originally a noun only, but it has a few longstanding verb definitions that most dictionaries accepted long ago. Some of its verb senses have sexual connotations that can arise unintentionally when the word is used in nonsexual contexts.


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    The nonsexual definitions of service as a verb are (1) to make fit for use, repair, or maintain; and (2) to make interest payments on a debt. But another long-accepted definition of service is to copulate with. It usually applies to the role of males in animal breeding. A less accepted but widespread definition is, simply, to have sex with or to perform a sexual act with.

    Given these definitions, it might sometimes be best to avoid using service with a person or group of people as its direct object. If serve doesn’t seem a fit replacement for service, try aid, assist, or help.


    Service in the sexual sense is not rare, so we can’t just ignore it. Here are a few examples:


    But Lee dismisses as “nonsense” reports that female “pleasure squads” were trained to service him. [USA Today]

    For 14 months she serviced the sexual needs of “between dozens and hundreds” of men. [Herald Scotland]

    As we already know, Judith disapproves of premarital intercourse, but allows Darren to service her vigorously. [Salon]

    Under Islamic law, a husband is fully entitled to beat his wife if she refuses to service him until she finally consents. [Right Side News]

    Either we’re dirty-minded, or these instances of service are unintentionally icky:

    I had an amazing team of professionals and we serviced our customers like distinguished guests. [posted on San Francisco Chronicle]

    We’re about servicing the fan all day long. [quoted in Los Angeles Times]

    And these instances of service are okay because the direct object of service is inanimate:

    Then the car is serviced and refuelled to do it all over again. [Economist]

    The biggest expense for many people is servicing debt, either in the form of a mortgage or credit cards and loans. [Scotsman]



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