Printable Version
Pronunciation: -kee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A toady, bootlicker, sycophant, flunkey, minion, someone who obsequiously obeys a person or group of people. 2. A liveried footman, valet, or other male servant.

Notes: Lackey is a lexical orphan without derivational relatives. It may be used as a verb meaning "to behave like a lackey", which licenses a participle, lackeying, that may be used as an adjective or action noun referring to the behavior of a lackey.

In Play: The original sense of today's Good Word isn't used at all today. Words like lackey and footman are not used even for servants. So, we are left with the pejorative sense: "Jerry Mander had to set himself apart from the other candidates, whom he considers lackeys of big business." Politics or business, lackeys abound: "Rather than hiring the finest minds he can find, the president has surrounded himself with a pack of obsequious lackeys."

Word History: Today's word was borrowed from French laquais "valet, domestic, servant" from Old French lacayz "military valet", a word of unknown origin. Three theories of this mysterious origin have been advanced. (1) Lacayz was borrowed from Old Provenal lacai, from lecai "glutton, covetous", from lecar "to lick". Since the pejorative meaning is more recent than the neutral sense, this explanation is weak. (2) The Old French word might come from Catalan alacai, from Arabic al-qadi "the judge", but since a judge is of a much higher social level than a lackey, even in the original sense, this origin is also questionable. (3) It might come from Byzantine Greek oulakes, borrowed from Ottoman Turkish ulak "courier", a relative of Old Turkic ulaq "stage horse, postal delivery", a word based on ulamaq "to join, connect". Take your pick. (Lackey to no man, our old friend Lew Jury made the suggestion we run today's very Good Word some time back.)

Dr. Goodword,

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