Slave driver

Photo of author


Slave driver is a term that has been in use since the 1790s. Like most idioms, it was first used in a literal sense. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the definition of the term slave driver, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A slave driver is someone such as a manager, teacher or parent who forces others to work extremely hard. The term slave driver first appeared in the late 1700s to mean an overseer of slaves. The term later took on a figurative sense to mean someone who expects an unreasonable amount of effort and output from someone else. Though slave driver is not usually considered an offensive word, be careful in its use considering your audience and intention. Note that slave driver does not take a hyphen, unless it is used as an adjective before a noun.


“As a pastor, I have seen where you try to correct somebody’s child and you are seen as a slave driver because the thing that you are correcting the child about is nothing in the eyes of the parent.” (The Jamaica Gleaner)

“He was a very kind person but could be a slave driver.” (The Baltimore Sun)

He pointed out that federal Opposition leaders had mocked and branded Dr Mahathir with labels such as “mamak bendahara” and even “Mahafiraun” and “Mahazalim”, the latter two which roughly translate to slave driver or despot, in the past before their alliance. (The Malay Mail)

And he said at first he thought the others were Zaman’s bodyguards but then formed the view Zaman was acting like a “slave driver” to the others. (The Chronicle)

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered: