Trend Watch

CNN's Tapper: Miller 'Obsequious,' 'Factotum'

Lookups spike for both after on-air argument

Obsequious and factotum, neither of which is generally employed as a compliment, both rose to the top of our lookups on January 7th, 2018, after CNN host Jake Tapper used both words to describe White House advisor Stephen Miller while ending an interview with him.

CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday cut off a contentious interview with White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, as the two sparred about President Trump and the news network.
“I get it. There’s one viewer that you care about right now and you're being obsequious and you’re being a factotum in order to please him, OK,” Tapper said on "State of the Union," appearing to reference the president.
— Mallory Shelbourne, The Hill (thehill.com), 7 Jan. 2017

Photo: Gage Skidmore

'Obsequious' and 'factotum' go back to the 15th and 16th centuries, respectively.

Obsequious is defined as “marked by or exhibiting a fawning attentiveness”; while factotum has a number of possible senses, the definition we provide which would appear most applicable to Tapper’s intent is “a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities; a general servant.”

Neither word is terribly new; factotum has been in use since the 16th century, and obsequious since the 15th. The noun factotum permits little variation of form, but obsequious may be found in myriad parts of speech and shapes. Obsequence and obsequiousness are “the state of being obsequious”; obsequent serves as a synonym for obsequious; and obsequium is “the customary repectful behavior due from a freedman to his patron or former master under ancient Roman law including freedom from lawsuit by the freedman except with the consent of the praetor and the duty to support the patron when needy.”


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