Printable Version
Pronunciation: 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: This word is taken from Greek symbiosis "living together (with)", made up of three parts: sym-, a variant of the preposition syn "together, with" + bio "life, living" + osis "a condition", as distinguished from -itis "an inflammation" in medicine. The preposition syn is found in many words, such as symphony, a group of sounds together, and synthetic, human creations that are "put together". It comes from Proto-Indo-European ksun "with", which shows up in Russian as s(o) "(together) with". Greek bios "life" is found in many English words borrowed from that language, such as biology, the scientific study of life, and biography, the written story of someone's life. It goes back to a PIE word gwei- "to live, alive", which shows up in English as quick, via Old English cwic "living, alive." In Latin, the PIE word emerged as vita "life", which English borrowed in vital and viable.

Dr. Goodword,

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