kowtow

verb
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

kowtow

noun

Definition of kowtow (Entry 2 of 2)

: an act of kowtowing

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Did You Know?

Noun

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.

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 That needs to be fixed, and fast: officials can’t kowtow to players who yell at them, while giving bad calls to players who play respectfully. Andy Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Andy Larsen: Is there something to the Utah Jazz’s complaints about small market officiating?," 7 Mar. 2021 That needs to be fixed, and fast: officials can’t kowtow to players who yell at them, while giving bad calls to players who play respectfully. Andy Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Andy Larsen: Is there something to the Utah Jazz’s complaints about small market officiating?," 7 Mar. 2021 That needs to be fixed, and fast: officials can’t kowtow to players who yell at them, while giving bad calls to players who play respectfully. Andy Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, "The Triple Team: NBA referees ruin fun Jazz/Sixers matchup; Rudy Gobert’s ‘small-market’ comments and some of the missed calls," 3 Mar. 2021 But credit Texas for refusing to kowtow to the Big 12’s supreme power. Nick Moyle, San Antonio Express-News, "Texas women keep it closer but fall to No. 6 Baylor," 1 Mar. 2021 Banks must kowtow to woke regulators exercising enormous discretionary power over them. Eric Grover, National Review, "The Tsunami of Virtue-Signaling in Financial Services," 8 Dec. 2020 To her surprise, though, Julius has changed and has stopped kowtowing to the rich and powerful. Chancellor Agard, EW.com, "The Good Fight recap: The gang tries to resist sexual tension and draws dots," 14 May 2020 But if American basketball fans believe the NBA is kowtowing to Chinese authorities in this dispute, that could damage the league's reputation with fans and some American sponsors. Chris Isidore, CNN, "How one tweet put the NBA in a no-win situation in China," 8 Oct. 2019 It is routinely accused of kowtowing to China, including in its dealings with Taiwan. Annabelle Timsit, Quartz, "The world’s leaders are engaged in a familiar debate: public health or sovereignty?," 24 Apr. 2020

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.

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First Known Use of kowtow

Verb

1826, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

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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Last Updated

3 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Kowtow.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kowtow. Accessed 12 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for kowtow

kowtow

verb

English Language Learners Definition of kowtow

informal + disapproving : 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

verb
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 "… 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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for kowtow

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about kowtow

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