Quantcast
Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary
1

kowtow

play
noun kow·tow \(ˌ)kau̇-ˈtau̇, ˈkau̇-ˌ\

Definition of kowtow

  1. :  an act of kowtowing



Origin and Etymology of kowtow

Chinese (Beijing) kòutóu, from kòu to knock + tóu head


First Known Use: 1804


2

kowtow

verb kow·tow

Simple Definition of kowtow

  • : to agree too easily or eagerly to do what someone else wants you to do : to obey someone with power in a way that seems weak

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of kowtow

  1. intransitive verb
  2. 1 :  to show obsequious deference :  fawn <kowtows to the boss>

  3. 2 :  to kneel and touch the forehead to the ground in token of homage, worship, or deep respect

Examples of kowtow in a sentence

  1. <you can try kowtowing to the boss, but he'll see right through you>



Did You Know?

Kowtow originated as a noun referring to the act of kneeling and touching one's head to the ground as a salute or act of worship to a revered authority. In traditional China this ritual was performed by commoners making requests to the local magistrate, by the emperor to the shrine of Confucius, or by foreign representatives appearing before the emperor to establish trade relations. (In the late 18th century, some Western nations resisted performing the ritual, which acknowledged the Chinese emperor as the "son of heaven.") The word kowtow derives from Chinese "koutou," formed by combining the verb "kou" ("to knock") with the noun "tou" ("head"). The noun had arrived in English by 1804, and the earliest evidence for the verb dates from 1826.

1826

First Known Use of kowtow

1826


KOWTOW Defined for Kids

kowtow

verb kow·tow \kau̇-ˈtau̇, ˈkau̇-ˌtau̇\

Definition of kowtow for Students

kowtowed

kowtowing

  1. :  to obey a person in a position of power in a way that seems weak :  show overly respectful attention <"… don't expect me to kowtow to you, mortal, just because old Barnacle-Beard is your father." — Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief>




Learn More about kowtow


Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up kowtow? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a simplified speech bridging languages

Get Word of the Day daily email!

WORD GAMES

Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

confounded-person

Which is a synonym of indolent?

lazy melancholy frenetic philistine
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ