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[kou-tou, -tou, koh-] /ˈkaʊˈtaʊ, -ˌtaʊ, ˈkoʊ-/
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.
Origin of kowtow
1795-1805; < Chinese kòutóu literally, knock (one's) head
Related forms
kowtower, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for kowtow
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Want nothing better than to curtsy and kowtow when I flung out a gracious order?

    Queed Henry Sydnor Harrison
  • Li stood there behind her and made a sign to us to kowtow to her.

    Two Years in the Forbidden City The Princess Der Ling
  • No matter how servile he may be at home, everyone will kowtow to him abroad.

    Villa Elsa Stuart Henry
  • We had to kowtow again in thanking Her Majesty for her kindness and finally she said: "Nemen tzowba" (you can go now).

    Two Years in the Forbidden City The Princess Der Ling
  • And yet he did not move—he made no movement save to kowtow for mercy with his head.

    Wang the Ninth Putnam Weale
  • I think it is perfectly frightful the way we bow down and kowtow to your beast—the great god Cash!

    Pirates' Hope Francis Lynde
  • It shows what a nice disposition you have, to come to me to-day, after the way my nephew made me kowtow to you yesterday.

    Mrs. Darrell Foxcroft Davis
British Dictionary definitions for kowtow


verb (intransitive)
to touch the forehead to the ground as a sign of deference: a former Chinese custom
(often foll by to) to be servile or obsequious (towards)
the act of kowtowing
Derived Forms
kowtower, noun
Word Origin
C19: from Chinese k'o t'ou, from k'o to strike, knock + t'ou head
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for kowtow

also kow-tow, 1804, from Chinese k'o-t'ou custom of touching the ground with the forehead to show respect or submission, literally "knock the head," from k'o "knock, bump" + t'ou "head." The verb in the figurative sense of "act in an obsequious manner" is from 1826. Related: Kowtowed; kowtowing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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