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Sycophant

A flatterer; a person using flattery to win others’ favors and influence.

Origin

While the lexical-derivational origin to this word is evident, the pragmatic origin is rather obscure. The Latin sycophanta represented an informer, talebearer and slanderer stemming from the Greek sykon and phanein respectively representing ‘fig’ and ‘showing’.

“Showing the fig” was a vulgar gesture made by sticking one’s thumb between two fingers, a display somewhat resembling a fig. As the word sykon also represented vulva, this gesture was indeed inflammatory. Stories tell that prominent politicians in ancient Greece publically avoided and ostracized this gesture, but behind closed doors constantly used it referring to their opponents. So what is the connection between a vulgar gesture to a flatterer? Well, this is the obscure part. The saying initially developed the sense of ‘accuser’ which later on evolved into ‘informer’ and evidently- flatterer. The English sense of a servile flatterer was first recorded in the 1570’s.

Why this word?

For my personal inclination for justice. On too many occasions the wrong person acquires the right position merely due to his sycophantic gestures. If we find a situation to be unjust, we should be able to say it.

How to use sycophant?

Simply, this is yet another adjective. You can say David is a sycophant, look how he bluntly he admires the boss; or I’ve had enough of David’s sycophancy and his sycophantic gestures, this is just unfair!

*The examples above do not refer to a specific David.

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Written by Victoria Sheinkin

Victoria Sheinkin is a writer, content editor, translator and chief editor for UnusedWords.com. Speaking three and a half languages, she holds two BAs from the Tel Aviv university- Communication and jounalism, English literature and linguistics.

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