From Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.

Major O'Dowd, who had served his sovereign in every quarter of the world, and had paid for every step in his profession by some more than equivalent act of daring and gallantry, was the most modest, silent, sheep-faced and meek of little men, and as obedient to his wife as if he had been her tay-boy.

What's a "tay-boy". I couldn't find the word in my dictionary. Nor did a quick Google search yield any useful results.

1 Answer 1


The Major's wife is Irish,

"Otherwise called Peggy, lady of Major Michael O'Dowd, of our regiment, and daughter of Fitzjurld Ber'sford de Burgo Malony of Glenmalony, County Kildare."

'tay-boy' is a representation of 'tea-boy' rendered to suggest the accent of County Kildare.

"Sure, I couldn't stop till tay-time. Present me, Garge, my dear fellow, to your lady. Madam, I'm deloighted to see ye; and to present to you me husband, Meejor O'Dowd"

The use of 'tay' in the phrase 'tay-time' for 'tea-time' earlier in the section is probably intended to tip the reader off.

  • What's a tea-boy, though? Like the kid who brings in the tea service?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 17:49
  • The question was 'what's a tay-boy', I answered that. I assume tea-boys to be general reference ;-)
    – Spagirl
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 17:59
  • Thank you. Accented speech in novels always trips me up. I think the worst case I've encountered so far was the character Jo in Bleak House. I had no idea what he was saying half of the time.
    – mistercake
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 18:08
  • @DanBron During the British Raj in India (in which Major O'Dowd served) the British came into contact with a number of Indian servants with very specific roles often referred to as wallahs, examples are the punkah wallah who operated a manual ceiling fan and the dhobi wallah who did the laundry. One of these was the char wallah or tea man. Given the tendency of people of higher status to call male servants (particularly those of a different race) 'boy' the char wallah could well become a tea (or tay) boy
    – BoldBen
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 18:46
  • @BoldBen And though OED doesn't mention the term tea-boy, there are a couple of uses to be found in Google books which show it was in use in the UK in the middle of the 19th century to designate a male domestic servant with duties similar to those of a housemaid, including laying and serving tea. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 18:52

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