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  • kowtow
  • audio pronunciation
  • \KOW-tow\
  • DEFINITION

verb

1
: to show obsequious deference : fawn
2
: to kneel and touch the forehead to the ground in token of homage, worship, or deep respect
  • EXAMPLES

Martin kowtows to our boss every chance he gets, complimenting him on his suits and offering favors.

"It's not honorable to kowtow to the extremes so you can preserve your political career." — From an op-ed column by David Brooks in The New York Times, February 28, 2012

  • 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.

Test Your Vocabulary: What is the meaning of "sycophant"? The answer is ...

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