AskDefine | Define obsequious

Dictionary Definition

obsequious adj
1 attempting to win favor from influential people by flattery [syn: bootlicking, fawning, sycophantic, toadyish]
2 attentive in an ingratiating or servile manner; "obsequious shop assistants"

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl la obsequiosus, from obsequium < ob "after" + sequi "follow" (see sequel).


  • /əbˈsiːkwi.əs/, /@b"si:.kwi.@s/


  1. Obedient, compliant with someone else's orders or wishes.
  2. Excessively eager to please or to obey all instructions; fawning, subservient.
    • 1927 — Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, p. 20
      Translation falls especially short of this conceit which carries the whole flamboyance of the Spanish language. It was intended as an obsequious flattery of the Condesa, and was untrue.


obedient, compliant with someone else's orders

Extensive Definition

A sycophant (Gr. (συκοφάντης)) is a servile person who, acting in his or her own self interest, attempts to win favor by flattering one or more influential persons, with an undertone that these actions are executed at the cost of his or her own personal pride, principles, and peer respect. Such a manner is called obsequiousness.
In ancient Greece the word was the counterpart of the Athenian "delator": a public informer.
According to ancient authorities, the word (derived by them from συκος sukos, "fig", and φανης fanēs, "to show") meant one who informed against another for exporting figs (which was forbidden by law) or for stealing the fruit of the sacred fig-trees, whether in time of famine or on any other occasion (Plutarch, Life of Solon, 24, 2.). The Oxford English Dictionary, however, states that this explanation, though common, "cannot be substantiated", and suggests that it may refer instead to the insulting gesture of "making a fig" or to an obscene alternate meaning for "fig", namely sykon, which means cunt.
Another old explanation was that fines and taxes were at one time paid in apples, wine and oil, and those who collected such payments in kind were often called sycophants because they publicly handed them in.

Modern usage in other languages

In modern Greek the term has retained its ancient classical meaning, and is still used to describe a slanderer or a calumniator.

In popular culture

  • In Obert Skye's Leven Thumps series of children's books, "sycophant" also refers to a race of small furry creatures whose job is to aid people who have entered Foo.
  • In Andrew Bird's song "Sic of Elephants", he makes a play on words between "elephants" and "sycophants", and describes behavior one might associate with sycophants.


See also

obsequious in Danish: Sykofant
obsequious in German: Sykophant
obsequious in Spanish: Sicofanta
obsequious in Esperanto: Sikofanto
obsequious in French: Sycophante
obsequious in Dutch: Sycophant
obsequious in Polish: Sykofanta
obsequious in Russian: Сикофант
obsequious in Finnish: Sykofantti
obsequious in Swedish: Sykofant

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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