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Etymology

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From Sinitic 叩頭叩头 (Cantonese 叩頭叩头 (kau3 tau4) / Mandarin 叩頭叩头 (kòutóu)), literally "knock head".

Pronunciation

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Verb

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kowtow (third-person singular simple present kowtows, present participle kowtowing, simple past and past participle kowtowed)

  1. (intransitive, figuratively) To grovel, act in a very submissive manner.
    • 1984 December 30, Jim Davis, Garfield[1] (comic):
      I suppose you're going to be nice to Odie and kowtow to Jon and lick the mailman's boots! I don't like you already.
    • 2015, Oleg V. Khlevniuk, Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator, Yale University Press, →ISBN, page 265:
      The letter to Razin contained another thought that preoccupied Stalin in the first months after the war: the need to avoid “kowtowing to the West,” including showing “unwarranted respect” for the “military authorities of Germany.”
  2. (intransitive, historical) To kneel and bow low enough to touch one’s forehead to the ground.
    • 2013, Wendy Swartz, Robert Ford Campany, Yang Lu, Jessey J. C. Choo, Early Medieval China: A Sourcebook, Columbia University Press, →ISBN, page 645:
      When the weather turned cold, the tears that he shed would become frozen like veins; the blood on his forehead from kowtowing would also freeze and would not drip.
  3. (intransitive) To bow very deeply.
    (Can we add an example for this sense?)
  4. (by extension) To bow to or show obeisance to.

Derived terms

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Translations

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Noun

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kowtow (plural kowtows)

  1. The act of kowtowing.
    • 1990, Hugh D. R. Baker, Hong Kong Images: People and Animals, Hong Kong University Press, →ISBN, page 93:
      Three elders dressed in their long silk ceremonial gowns perform the kowtow before the altar in their clan ancestral hall.

Translations

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See also

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Portuguese

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Noun

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kowtow m (plural kowtows)

  1. kowtow (bow low enough to touch one’s forehead to the ground)