kow·​tow | \ ˈkau̇-ˌtau̇ How to pronounce kowtow (audio) , (ˌ)kau̇-ˈtau̇ \
kowtowed; kowtowing; kowtows

Definition of kowtow

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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



Definition of kowtow (Entry 2 of 2)

: 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").

Examples of kowtow in a Sentence

Verb you can try kowtowing to the boss, but he'll see right through you
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Biden constantly argues that the world is at an inflection point between democracy and autocracy, and his trip to Saudi Arabia shows that democracies may feel forced to kowtow to autocratic nations when economic and security interests are at stake. Benjamin Siegel, ABC News, 12 July 2022 His refusal to kowtow to the traditions of Congress was writ large. Robin Givhan, Washington Post, 12 July 2022 Trump, unencumbered by the need to kowtow to the Iranians, killed a few hundred Russian mercenaries in Syria. David Harsanyi, National Review, 22 Feb. 2022 But India remains the world’s second most populous nation and one of the few in Asia unwilling to kowtow to Chinese might. Sadanand Dhume, WSJ, 3 Mar. 2022 Changing the way waiting ships are counted while continuing to kowtow to organized labor will not ease port congestion. Dominic Pino, National Review, 2 Dec. 2021 Like Koreans or Vietnamese, Japanese delegations were expected to visit Chinese imperial capitals to kowtow to the emperor. Ian Buruma, Harper’s Magazine , 18 Jan. 2022 Emulating pre-Communist practices, younger doctors would kowtow three times before their elders to become disciples and learn directly from them. Ian Johnson, The New York Review of Books, 20 Oct. 2021 And she was indeed defined by a steely independent streak that did not kowtow to outsiders, whether established civil rights figures or the leader of the free world. BostonGlobe.com, 18 July 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said leaders from Sweden and Finland should not expect its support for NATO membership until Western nations kowtow to its demands. Caitlin Mcfall, Fox News, 18 May 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'kowtow.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of kowtow


1826, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1804, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for kowtow

Noun and Verb

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

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Cite this Entry

“Kowtow.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kowtow. Accessed 30 Sep. 2022.

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More Definitions for kowtow


kow·​tow | \ kau̇-ˈtau̇, ˈkau̇-ˌtau̇ \
kowtowed; kowtowing

Kids Definition of kowtow

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

More from Merriam-Webster on kowtow

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about kowtow


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