sycophant

noun sy·co·phant \ ˈsi-kə-fənt also ˈsī- & -ˌfant \
Updated on: 13 May 2018

Definition of sycophant

: a servile self-seeking flatterer

sycophant

adjective

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Examples of sycophant in a Sentence

  1. His press conference on January 11 was all aimed toward a single moment. The President was at his rostrum at the Élysée, with a crowd of courtiers, journalists, and sycophants herded behind a velvet rope. One reporter was allowed across the rope to put the same question, in exactly the same words, as he had put when Chirac had been nearing the end of his first term: Would he perhaps consider standing for a further five years? —Julian BarnesNew York Review29 Mar. 2007
  2. And swirling all around were coteries of agents, managers, execs, and moneymen; publicists and journalists, gawkers and sycophants. —Daniel Fierman et al.Entertainment Weekly9 June 2006
  3. Where his father liked to have sycophants, he likes to be with intellectuals. He likes confrontation. —Franklin FoerNew Republic14 Jan. 2002
  4. when her career was riding high, the self-deluded actress often mistook sycophants for true friends

Recent Examples of sycophant from the Web

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Did You Know?

In ancient Greece, sykophantēs meant "slanderer." It derives from two other Greek words, sykon (meaning "fig") and phainein (meaning "to show or reveal"). How did fig revealers become slanderers? One theory has to do with the taxes Greek farmers were required to pay on the figs they brought to market. Apparently, the farmers would sometimes try to avoid making the payments, but squealers—fig revealers—would fink on them, and they would be forced to pay. Another possible source is a sense of the word fig meaning "a gesture or sign of contempt" (as thrusting a thumb between two fingers). In any case, Latin retained the "slanderer" sense when it borrowed a version of sykophantēs, but by the time English speakers in the 16th century borrowed it as sycophant, the squealers had become flatterers.

Origin and Etymology of sycophant

borrowed from Latin sȳcophanta, borrowed from Greek sȳkophántēs, literally, "one who shows the fig," from sŷkon "fig" (perhaps in reference to an apotropaic gesture made by inserting the thumb between the index and second fingers) + -phantēs, agentive derivative of phaínein "to reveal, show, make known"; perhaps from the use of such a gesture in denouncing a culprit — more at 1fig, 1fancy
Note: The origin of Greek sȳkophántēs, applied in ancient Athens to private individuals who brought prosecutions in which they had no personal stake, was already under debate by ancient writers. The "apotropaic gesture" hypothesis given here was presented early on by Arthur Bernard Cook ("CΥΚΟΦΑΝΤΗC," The Classical Review, vol. 31 [1907], pp. 133-36); Cook also usefully summarizes ancient speculation (as the idea that the original sȳkophántēs denounced those who illegally exported figs from Attica). The objection has been made that the basic notion "one who makes the fig gesture" does not account for the extremely negative connotations of the word ("slanderer, calumniator, etc."), but other explanations (as, for example, that a sȳkophántēs revealed figs hidden in a malefactor's clothing, or initiated a prosecution for something of as little value as a fig) seem even less likely. A more nuanced, if not entirely convincing account, based on presumed fig metaphors in Athenian culture, is in Danielle Allen, The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 156 passim.

Synonym Discussion of sycophant

parasite, sycophant, toady, leech, sponge mean a usually obsequious flatterer or self-seeker. parasite applies to one who clings to a person of wealth, power, or influence or is useless to society.
    • a jet-setter with an entourage of parasites
sycophant adds to this a strong suggestion of fawning, flattery, or adulation.
    • a powerful prince surrounded by sycophants
toady emphasizes the servility and snobbery of the self-seeker.
    • cultivated leaders of society and became their toady
leech stresses persistence in clinging to or bleeding another for one's own advantage.
    • a leech living off his family and friends
sponge stresses the parasitic laziness, dependence, and opportunism of the cadger.
    • a shiftless sponge, always looking for a handout

SYCOPHANT Defined for English Language Learners

sycophant

Definition of sycophant for English Language Learners

  • : a person who praises powerful people in order to get their approval



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