Definition of kowtow
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!
Theme music by Joshua Stamper ©2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP
Recent Examples of kowtow from the Web
The citizens of Florida deserve better than someone who kowtows to the gun lobby.
Ennahda leaders know that perceived kowtowing to old regime forces incenses their base.
Another compelling, and not entirely distinct, story was that of the roguish career artists who managed to accrue major nominations despite a refusal to kowtow to establishment forces.
The senator outrages the emperor by refusing to kowtow to his backward religion.
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.
Definition of kowtow
: an act of kowtowing
Examples of kowtow in a Sentence
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.
Origin and Etymology of kowtow
Chinese (Beijing) kòutóu, from kòu to knock + tóu head
First Known Use: 1804See Words from the same year
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
Definition of kowtow for Students
: 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
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).