Definition of sycophant in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈsikəˌfant/
Pronunciation: /ˈsikəfənt/


A person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain advantage.
Example sentences
  • An assortment of hatchet men, opportunists and sycophants gained access to the levers of power.
  • There will be several servile sycophants who will come forward as ‘White Knights’ to regain their lost positions.
  • Only the most sycophantic of the sycophants would even begin to make such a comparison. [In the past] there was at least a real enemy, there were real things to be done.
yes-man, bootlicker, brown-noser, toady, lickspittle, flatterer, flunky, lackey, spaniel, doormat, stooge, cringer, suck, suck-up


Mid 16th century (denoting an informer): from French sycophante, or via Latin from Greek sukophantēs 'informer', from sukon 'fig' + phainein 'to show'; the association with informing against the illegal exportation of figs from ancient Athens (recorded by Plutarch) is not substantiated.

  • This is a story of figs and flattery. The Greek word sukophantēs meant ‘informer’. It was based on sukon ‘fig’ (also the root of sycamore (Middle English) and originally used for a fig tree) and phainein ‘to show’, and so literally meant ‘a person who shows the fig’. Some people have suggested that this related to the practice of informing against people who illegally exported figs from ancient Athens, as recorded by the Greek biographer Plutarch. A more likely explanation is that the term referred to an obscene gesture known as ‘showing (or making) the fig’. When sycophant entered the English language in the 1530s it meant ‘an informer’, and soon also ‘a person who tells tales or spreads malicious reports about someone’. The modern sense of ‘a servile flatterer’ probably comes from the notion that you can ingratiate yourself with someone in authority either by slandering others or by flattering the person in question.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: syc·o·phant

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