verb kow·tow \ (ˌ)kau̇-ˈtau̇ , ˈkau̇-ˌtau̇ \
Updated on: 31 Dec 2017

Definition of kowtow

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

kowtow was our Word of the Day on 04/24/2012. Hear the podcast!

Examples of kowtow in a Sentence

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

Recent Examples of kowtow from the Web

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Origin and Etymology of kowtow

kowtow Synonyms




Definition of kowtow

: an act of kowtowing

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.

Origin and Etymology of kowtow

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

KOWTOW Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of kowtow for English Language Learners

  • : 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

KOWTOW Defined for Kids


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

Definition of kowtow for Students

kowtowed; kowtowing
: 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

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having a quality expressive of sadness

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