"Napkin" or "towel" seem so...ordinary. Is there a better word for it?


5 Answers 5


Napkin is the correct term:

  • what about that waiter who carries a napkin draped over one arm? In part, it’s practicality. It’s readily available to mop up any accidental spills or other messes at your table. But the practice dates back a couple of hundred years in France; that was how waiters carried the napkins they would distribute to diners. Napkins have been in use for thousands of years.

If you want a less common alternative you can use serviette:

  • (chiefly British) : a table napkin
  • 2
    The labor organization for waiters is the serviette union. (I couldn't resist that one.)
    – tautophile
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 6:49

When I worked as a waiter in Scotland in the 1970s we called it a dadel. Not sure of the spelling as I never saw it written down, so it may have been dadle.

Thanks to the later contributor who provided the correct spelling as daidle, but who also said that the English translation for the word is actually an apron.

Presumably due to having the incorrect spelling of the word, I could not find it on any of the Scots dictionaries, but I did find the translation for the correct spelling in the DSL, Dictionaries of the Scots Language. This gives 4 translations for the word as a noun, one of which is a napkin, which would seem to conform with us calling the towel we carried over our arm as a daidle. Which is what we did call it.

As other contributors noted, it was very useful for light cleaning and handling hot items. I did also put out a small fire with it in a restaurant after an accident with a flaming Sambuca.

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 5 at 15:55
  • 1
    No, that was the apron. OED daidle (n.) - Chiefly Scottish. -- A pinafore....a1800 Jenny [shall have] the sark of God For—petticoat, dishclout, and daidle. Jacobite Relics (1819) vol. I. 7
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jan 5 at 17:14
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    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 6 at 8:55

In the F&B industry it is termed as "Waiter's cloth".

  • 2
    This would be improved with a source for these terms ('F&B industry', 'waiter's cloth'). Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 6:43

You might want to use the French word for that napkin. In French it's called liteau. The plural should be liteaux.

  • Thanks, Ernesto, but ELU is English-specific. Commented Jan 5 at 18:42

I have no clue as to how I fell into this chance exchange. That Napkin, dodolie, hankie you see hanging over the left forearm or tailed to the back of an apron has reclaimed its original coined terminology in three various forms: In cleanest form it is the know as the master (however I have recently heard it called prince/ss.) If it appears dry but dirty You would call it a migrant. The dirty, wet, and defeated is know as a slave.

I’m not making this up, I’ve been in the industry for nearly thirty years.

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