Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A person who attempts to gain advantage by flattering influential people or behaving in a servile manner.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A tale-bearer or informer in general.
  • noun A parasite; a mean flatterer; especially, a flatterer of princes and great men.
  • noun Synonyms Parasite, Sycophant (see parasite), fawner, toady, toad-eater, flunkey.
  • Parasitical; servile; obsequious; sycophantic.
  • To give information about, or tell tales of, in order to gain favor; calumniate.
  • To play the sycophant toward; flatter meanly and officiously.
  • To play the sycophant.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • intransitive verb To play the sycophant.
  • noun obsolete An informer; a talebearer.
  • noun A base parasite; a mean or servile flatterer; especially, a flatterer of princes and great men.
  • transitive verb obsolete To inform against; hence, to calumniate.
  • transitive verb To play the sycophant toward; to flatter obsequiously.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun One who uses compliments to gain self-serving favor or advantage from another.
  • noun One who seeks to gain through the powerful and influential.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a person who tries to please someone in order to gain a personal advantage

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Latin sȳcophanta, informer, slanderer, from Greek sūkophantēs, informer, from sūkon phainein, to show a fig (perhaps originally said of denouncers of theft or exportation of figs or of persons making a lascivious gesture resembling a fig) : sūkon, fig + phainein, to show; see bhā- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

First attested in 1537. From Latin sȳcophanta ("informer, trickster"), from Ancient Greek συκοφάντης (sukophantēs), itself from σῦκον (sukon, "fig") + φαίνω (phainō, "I show, demonstrate"). The gesture of "showing the fig" was a vulgar one, which was made by sticking the thumb between two fingers, a display which vaguely resembles a fig, which is itself symbolic of a (sykon 'vagina' also meant vulva). The story behind this etymology is that politicians in ancient Greece steered clear of displaying that vulgar gesture, but urged their followers sub rosa to taunt their opponents by using it.

Examples

Comments

Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • A little etymological treat, in my opinion: "one who shows the fig."

    June 18, 2007

  • JM reckons a sycophant is a person who stoops to concur.

    August 26, 2011