[kou-tou, -tou, koh-]
verb (used without object)
to act in an obsequious manner; show servile deference.
to touch the forehead to the ground while kneeling, as an act of worship, reverence, apology, etc., especially in former Chinese custom.
the act of kowtowing.
Also, kotow.

1795–1805; < Chinese kòutóu literally, knock (one's) head

kowtower, noun
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
kowtow (ˌkaʊˈtaʊ)
1.  to touch the forehead to the ground as a sign of deference: a former Chinese custom
2.  (often foll by to) to be servile or obsequious (towards)
3.  the act of kowtowing
[C19: from Chinese k'o t'ou, from k'o to strike, knock + t'ou head]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

1804 (n.), from Chinese k'o-t'ou custom of touching the ground with the forehead to show respect or submission, lit. "knock the head," from k'o "knock, bump" + t'ou "head." The verb in the fig. sense of "act in an obsequious manner" is from 1826.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Britannica


in traditional China, the act of supplication made by an inferior to his superior by kneeling and knocking his head to the floor. This prostration ceremony was most commonly used in religious worship, by commoners who came to make a request of the local district magistrate, and by officials and representatives of foreign powers who came into the presence of the emperor. By the Ming period (1368-1644), the ritual, especially as made to the shrine of Confucius by the emperor and to the emperor by his officials and foreign envoys, involved "three kneelings and nine prostrations."

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
Unlike the others, he was apparently unable to kowtow sufficiently and show the respect demanded by them.
Humanities scholars should not ignore science or reject it in kneejerk fashion, but neither should they kowtow to it.
The kowtow was often performed in diplomatic relations as well.
Some even went on strike, calling the requirements a kowtow to tourists and a burden on drivers.
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