Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
August 27th, 2015
Episode 301 of 681 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 27, 2015 is: sycophant \SIK-uh-funt\ noun : a servile self-seeking flatterer Examples: Rosemary has little use for sycophants in her office, so if you want that promotion, do your best and let your work speak for itself. "'Have I just surrounded myself with sycophants who are just telling me whatever I want to hear, regardless of the truth?' [Silicon Valley character Gavin Belson] asks his spiritual advisor, whose gulping response is a perfect 'No.'" Caleb Pershan, SFist (sfist.com), 18 May 2015 Did you know? In the language of ancient Greece, sykophantēs meant "slanderer." The word derives from two other Greek words, sykon (meaning "fig") and phainein (meaning "to show or reveal"). How did fig revealers become slanderers? One theory has to do with the taxes Greek farmers were required to pay on the figs they brought to market. Apparently, the farmers would sometimes try to avoid making the payments, but squealersfig revealerswould fink on them, and they would be forced to pay. Another possible source is a sense of the word fig meaning "a gesture or sign of contempt (such as thrusting a thumb between two fingers)." In any case, Latin retained the "slanderer" sense when it borrowed a version of sykophantēs, but by the time English speakers in the 16th century borrowed it as sycophant, the squealers had become flatterers.