Definition of kowtow in English:

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Pronunciation: /kaʊˈtaʊ/


[no object]
1Act in an excessively subservient manner: she didn’t have to kowtow to a boss
More example sentences
  • He didn't kowtow to anyone, said what he pleased, dressed as he pleased.
  • He is grateful for it, but he is not going to kowtow to anybody.
  • Must we forever kowtow to US imperialism and be treated like the illegitimate children of the global economy?
grovel, behave obsequiously, be obsequious, be servile, be sycophantic, fawn on, bow and scrape, toady, truckle, abase oneself, humble oneself, prostrate oneself;
curry favour with, flatter, court, woo, dance attendance on, make up to, play up to, ingratiate oneself with
informal crawl, creep, suck up to, butter up, be all over, fall all over, lick someone's boots
North American informal brown-nose
Australian/New Zealand informal smoodge to
archaic blandish
2 historical Kneel and touch the ground with the forehead in worship or submission as part of Chinese custom.
Example sentences
  • In ‘Keeper of the Keys,’ Chan has to deal with a much older Chinese servant who kowtows to his white master in embarrassing fashion.
  • Supplicants no longer approached the imperial presence on their knees, bruising their foreheads as they kowtowed so hard that the emperor heard their respect from the sound of their heads hitting the floor.
  • They said his actions were more wicked and despicable than earlier claims of a foreign hostess forcing Chinese female workers to kowtow and a security guard frisking female workers.
prostrate oneself, bow, bow down before, genuflect, do/make obeisance, fall on one's knees before, get down on one's knees before, kneel before;
salaam, throw oneself at someone's feet, fall down before someone, curtsy, bow and scrape;
pay homage, show reverence, show deference, humble oneself before someone, worship


An act of kowtowing as part of Chinese custom.
Example sentences
  • Chang kowtows before the Emperor, who tells him of his mission.





Early 19th century: from Chinese kētóu, from 'knock' + tóu 'head'.

Words that rhyme with kowtow

allow, avow, Bilbao, Bissau, bough, bow, bow-wow, brow, cacao, chow, ciao, cow, dhow, Dow, endow, Foochow, Frau, Hangzhou, Hough, how, Howe, Lao, Liao, Macao, Macau, miaow, Mindanao, mow, now, ow, Palau, plough (US plow), pow, prow, row, scow, Slough, sough, sow, Tao, thou, vow, wow, Yangshao

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: kow¦tow

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