Weekly Word is a weekly post intended to illustrate the meaning and use of a single word. The chosen word will begin with a different letter each week, as Louise (my daughter) and I work our way through the alphabet.
Louise posts on her website:
This week’s word begins with the letter S:
Part of Speech:
A person who attempts to gain advantage by flattering influential people or behaving in a servile manner, as if he has no self-respect; a self-seeking, fawning parasite.
sy-co-phant (sy-co –fant)
sik –uh-fuhnt (sik – uh-fant)
sycophants (plural noun)
sycophancy (n) sycophantism (n)
sycophantic (adj) sycophantically (adj) sycophantish (adj)
sycophantical (adv) sycophantishly (adv)
yes man toady fawner suck-up lickspittle brown nose/noser arse/ass-licker arse/ass- kisser groveller apple polisher backslapper backscratcher puppet flatterer lackey crawler leech minion creep flunkey doormat boot licker truckler sponge sponger parasite kowtower hanger-on cringer goody-goody adulator Uriah Heep
honest principled unsubmissive individualist free-thinker arrogant unservile imperious impertinent proud boastful high-handed haughty lordly
Mid 16th century (1530-40) denoting an informer, from the French sycophante, or via Latin from the Greek sukophantes, also meaning informer, or slanderer (from sukon meaning ‘fig’ and phainein meaning ‘to show or reveal’). This is perhaps in reference to making the insulting gesture of the ‘fig’ (yes, the fruit) i.e. sticking the thumb between two fingers to informers.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary once again adds a little more information to this reference:
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.
Use the Word in a Sentence (or a paragraph or short story).
The Sad Tale of King Fred
King Fred was a vain and conceited man and quite ineffectual as the ruler of Cleverland. Content to spend his days surrounded by fawning, sycophantic courtiers who constantly boosted his ego with insincere flattery, the kingdom would have long since ceased to function if not for the administrative ability of Princess Gertrude, Fred’s beautiful and sagacious daughter.
One day, after listening to bucketloads of praise from the grovelling sycophants regarding Fred’s ability to perform any task he chose, a handsome young courtier named Luvstruk took his cue: ‘You are skilled in so many things, my king, and put the rest of us to shame. If we had a suitable vessel, I’m sure you could fly it to the moon! You could certainly outshine our most highly trained coach drivers if you desired, and make those horses gallop faster than ever.’
The sponging parasites cheered King Fred on with sycophantish zeal as he left the stable yard driving his own stately coach. Fred yelled and whooped at the two lusty horses, and thrashed with his whip and reins. Unused to this amateur hand, horses whinnied and sidled, then reared and shot off, leaving Fred hanging on for dear life. The resounding crash beyond the palace gates said it all.
The sycophants wept over the mangled body of the king who had plied them with wine and expensive gifts in exchange for their self-serving praise. Luvstruk grinned. If those toadies thought that Fred’s successor would be just as gullible, they could think again.
Luvstruk headed into the castle to report on a successful mission to the future queen. The thistles under the harnesses had done the trick. Gertrude would be a wise and diligent ruler, who would brook no sycophancy in her court, and the kingdom would prosper. Gertrude would also ensure that all those kowtowing sycophants would be seeking new employment in a kingdom far away from Cleverland.