• sycophant •
sik-ê-fênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A toady, a servile lickspittle who curries the favor of prominent people with obsequious praise and flattery.
Notes: This word comes with the full panoply of derivatives, including an adjective sycophantic(al) and adverb sycophantically, and two nouns, sycophantism and the more playful sycophancy. Remember that the first vowel is a Y, not I (i), and that the [f] sound is spelled PH.
In Play: It is important to distinguish the opinions of sycophants from those of minds more objective: "Sue Persilius got her conceitedness from the sycophants she hires to manage her affairs." We all love to be praised for what we do, but we should be careful about whom we listen to: "After ten years of worldwide concerts Nick O'Lodian's music became so bad that even the entourage of sycophants that follows his every footstep ran out of encouraging things to say about it."
Word History: Today's Good Word began as Greek sykophantes "false accuser, informer", a compound from the phrase sykon phainein "to expose a fig". It probably originally applied to people who exposed the illegal trade in figs in Attic Greece. However, by the time it reached Rome its meaning was changing, as reflected in the Latin verb derived from it, sykophantor "to trick or cheat someone". Somewhere between Latin and French the meaning moved on to "slanderer" (French sycophante) and entered English with that sense. Then, in the 1570s, according to etymonline.com, the meaning drifted to where it reposes today. (I hope you don't think me a sycophant for congratulating Patty Cadroy on her excellent choice of a Good Word for today; I seek naught in return.)
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