The word 'slave' suggests someone is owned and serves but brings to mind meanings of oppression. 'Servant' suggests someone is not owned but is merely employed to serve.

Can anyone give me a word that may mean someone that is owned, serves, and is not oppressed by their owner, but is in fact taken care of and protected by him?

  • 6
    If you own somebody, they are your slave; it doesn't matter how well you treat them. Apr 2, 2011 at 11:58
  • 3
    in the US it is called "Middle Class" and the owners are the financial industry ...
    – user10126
    Nov 8, 2011 at 17:06
  • 2
    Picking up what Peter said: in the Roman Empire, some slaves had estates (including slaves of their own), great political power, and huge responsibilities. But they were still slaves. Dec 29, 2011 at 22:54
  • I doubt there is a widely-known English synonym for 'slave' that lacks the 'oppression' connotation, since there's been a fairly strong sentiment against the idea of owning people in English-speaking countries recently. I suggest you look for a term that's largely fallen out of use.
    – user867
    Nov 27, 2012 at 4:35
  • 1
    @TobiasKienzler Relatively recently.
    – user867
    Mar 15, 2013 at 3:17

6 Answers 6


A serf has a status in between that of a slave and that of a servant.

  • A serf cannot be sold but he is bound to a plot of land owned by his lord. Serfdom was a common condition in feudal Europe during the Middle ages until the plague epidemics and abolished in Russia by the liberal tsar Alexander II in the 19th century.
    A serf is not paid, instead he is required to work on his master's land and this takes precedence over his own plot.
  • A servant, in contrast, has wages and can theoretically choose his master.
  • A slave—there are many variations depending on the place and times—is bought and owned for life. His emancipation depends entirely on his master's goodwill.
  • 2
    Depending on where you are, serfdom could be considered a form of oppression. And I personally don't think it's nicer-sounding than slave.
    – Jimi Oke
    Apr 2, 2011 at 15:57
  • @Jimi Oppressive as hell, and not at all nice, but still distinct from (and possibly better than) outright slavery. Nov 9, 2011 at 3:39
  • What about biblical slavery which would allow freedom for Israelite slaves on the seventh year? Is slavery really always for life? Nov 22, 2013 at 20:40

Sorry, but there really isn't a good general purpose word for this in English. There are some different words you can use for specific situations such as 'indentured servant', or 'serf', but it's a hard void to fill.

One solution used in some bible translations from older English usage is 'bondservant'.


You should use slave itself.

Slaves aren't always treated badly. Socially, yes, slaves is used for those who serve and yet receive bad treatment.

Slaves, like servants, are people who work for someone, but without wages. How you treat them is up to you.


vassal (noun)

1.(in the feudal system) a person granted the use of land, in return for rendering homage, fealty, and usually military service or its equivalent to a lord or other superior; feudal tenant.

2.a person holding some similar relation to a superior; a subject, subordinate, follower, or retainer.

3.a servant or slave.

c.1300 (implied in vassalage ) "tenant who pledges fealty to a lord," from O.Fr. vassal, from M.L. vassallus "manservant, domestic, retainer," from vassus "servant," from O.Celt. *wasso- "young man, squire" (cf. Welsh gwas "youth, servant," Bret. goaz "servant, vassal, man," Ir. foss "servant"). The adj. is recorded from 1593.


Two somewhat regional terms that might qualify here are peon and sharecropper.

On peonage:

The origin of this form of involuntary servitude goes back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico when conquistadors forced poor Natives to work for Spanish planters and mine operators.


On sharecropping:

Sharecropping became widespread as a response to economic upheaval caused by the emancipation of slaves and disenfranchisement of poor whites in the agricultural South during Reconstruction. Plantations had first relied on slaves for cheap labor. Prior to emancipation, sharecropping was limited to poor landless whites, usually working marginal lands for absentee landlords. Following emancipation, sharecropping came to be an economic arrangement that largely maintained the status quo between black and white through legal means.



An Indentured Labourer (laborer) is not oppressed like a slave, but not paid like a servant.

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