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.
11 thoughts on “Weekly Word – Sycophant”
I think I like this word more than brown noser.
So do I, Jill. It’s a lot better than brown noser and one or two other words and phrases like it.
Aha, another favorite– although I still always learn something from these posts, even if I already know the term. I never knew the rude gesture called the fig — how wonderful! And what an interesting (possible) backstory for the term, about the “fig revealers”.
I knew nothing about the fig gesture, either Joy. I’ve learned a few things myself while doing these posts and confess, i enjoy searching through dictionaries, both physical copies and online versions. The theory about the fig revealers is very interesting, and plausible. I suppose if I wrote a novel set in ancient Greece, I could make use of it. 😀
Since I’m writing in a secondary world, I can include the fig gesture wherever I want! Although I might think of some other name for it… It’s so interesting how different cultures come up with different rude hand gestures.
Did you know that the ‘figa’ in Brazil is a hand gesture that’s supposed to keep away pain, suffering, and envy? Also, it is an amulet that protects against the evil eye. I tried to put in a photo of one, but WordPress seems to be dead against it.
The fate of your sycophant loving Fred is amusing, it made me laugh (devilishly), but I admit that the ‘coach divers’ had me puzzled for a moment. . .
Thank you for that, Hanne. I didn’t come across that one while looking up the word origin of sycophant – but I didn’t go as far as looking up about the fig gesture (or ‘figa’) in general. I intend to do that now. Thank you, too for spotting the typo in my story. I’ve restored the ‘r’ to its rightful place. I really ought to have a big sign at the top of my Home Page reading, BEWARE, QUEEN OF TYPOS AT LARGE. 😀
History is full of such people. It does have an interesting origin.
You are so right, Arv! History is definitely full of such people and I could name a few from British history alone. Yes, I agree, the word origin of this word is fascinating. I had no idea of its connections to the fig gesture when I decided to use sycophant as my ‘S’ word.