1. One who attends to the maintenance or cleaning of a building.
2. A doorman or doorwoman.
[Latin iānitor, doorkeeper, from iānua, door, from iānus, archway; see ei- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
jan′i·tori·al (-tôrē-əl) adj.
Word History: In Latin iānus was the word for "archway, gateway, or covered passage" and also for the god of gates, doorways, and beginnings in general, known in English as Janus. Our month January—a month of beginnings—is named for the god. Latin iānitor, the source of our word janitor and ultimately also from iānus, meant "doorkeeper or gatekeeper." Probably because iānitor was common in Latin records and documents, it was adopted into English. In an early quotation Saint Peter is called "the Janitor of heaven." The term can still mean "doorkeeper," but in Scots usage janitor also referred to a minor school official. Apparently this position at times involved maintenance duties and doorkeeping, and the maintenance duties took over the more exalted tasks, giving us the position of janitor as we know it today.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.