Thursday, June 20, 2013

Public Service Day

Public Service Day, June 23

This Sunday, June 23, is Public Service Day. Sponsored & established by the United Nations in 2003, June 23 is a day to celebrate & acknowledge the good deeds & good spirit of public service worldwide.

Public showed up in English in the 1300s as an adjective through Old French from the Latin word publicus, meaning of the state, of the people, general, ordinary, or vulgar (oops – someone’s elitism is showing). By the 1600s public was also being used as a noun, meaning commonwealth, or public property. It is related to the words people, populace, popular, publicity, publican, puberty, & pub. Its medieval English synonym, folclic, sadly, never made it out of the Middle Ages.

The word public first aligned itself with the word service in 1893, giving us public service.

Service also came through Old French from Latin, though it appeared in English two centuries before public. The Latin donor word was servitium, which meant slavery or servitude, and came directly from the Latin word for slave, servus. Within a century, service’s meaning had generalized to simply mean the act of serving (not necessarily due to enslavement). By the late 1400s tea service was born and by the 1500s service picked up its military meaning. In 1941 service & industry found one another & service industry was born.

But back to the UN & June 23.
What sort of public service can we each provide?
Moving a grocery cart so it won’t whack into someone’s car?
Recommending a great book?
Offering a hand to someone who could use it?
Contributing time or resources to a social or environmental cause?

Maybe afterward we could all meet somewhere where we can enjoy being served – like maybe the pub.

Please leave a note in the comments section about some public service you’re aware of that warms the cockles of your heart (there’s a future Wordmonger post, eh?) or a public service you’re likely to engage in this week.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, United Nations, & Etymonline,


  1. I always like the Greek term "hoi polloi" for the vulgar crowd. :-) Wouldn't it be amazing if our public servants in Congress actually acted like it instead of trying to make the public into slaves?

    1. Hi Anne,
      Ain't that the truth. I should start getting together a post on all the terms that refer to a "lower" segment of society. Hoi polloi, gross, common, prosaic...