Etymology
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sycophant (n.)

1530s (in Latin form sycophanta), "informer, talebearer, slanderer," from French sycophante and directly from Latin sycophanta, from Greek sykophantes "false accuser, slanderer," literally "one who shows the fig," from sykon "fig" (see fig) + phainein "to show" (from PIE root *bha- (1) "to shine").

"Showing the fig" was a vulgar gesture made by sticking the thumb between two fingers, a display which vaguely resembles a fig, itself symbolic of a vagina (sykon also meant "vulva"). The modern accepted explanation is that prominent politicians in ancient Greece held aloof from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents. The sense of "mean, servile flatterer" is first recorded in English 1570s.

The explanation, long current, that it orig. meant an informer against the unlawful exportation of figs cannot be substantiated. [OED]
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sycophantic (adj.)
1670s, from Greek sykophantikos, from sykophantes (see sycophant). Related: Sycophantical (1560s).
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sycophancy (n.)
1620s, from sycophant + abstract noun suffix -cy, or else from Latin sycophantia, from Greek sykophantia "false accusation, slander; conduct of a sycophant," from sykophantes.
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*bha- (1)

*bhā-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to shine."

It forms all or part of: aphotic; bandolier; banner; banneret; beacon; beckon; buoy; diaphanous; emphasis; epiphany; fantasia; fantasy; hierophant; pant (v.); -phane; phanero-; phantasm; phantasmagoria; phantom; phase; phene; phenetic; pheno-; phenology; phenomenon; phenyl; photic; photo-; photocopy; photogenic; photograph; photon; photosynthesis; phosphorus; phaeton; sycophant; theophany; tiffany; tryptophan.

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit bhati "shines, glitters;" Greek phainein "bring to light, make appear," phantazein "make visible, display;" Old Irish ban "white, light, ray of light."

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fig (n.1)

early 13c., from Old French figue "fig" (12c.), from Old Provençal figa, from Vulgar Latin *fica, corresponding to Latin ficus "fig tree, fig," which, with Greek sykon, Armenian t'uz is "prob. fr. a common Mediterranean source" [Buck], possibly a Semitic one (compare Phoenician pagh "half-ripe fig"). A reborrowing of a word that had been taken directly from Latin as Old English fic "fig, fig-tree."

The insulting sense of the word in Shakespeare, etc. (A fig for ...) is 1570s (in 17c. sometimes in Italian form fico), in part from fig as "small, valueless thing," but also from Greek and Italian use of their versions of the word as slang for "vulva," apparently because of how a ripe fig looks when split open [Rawson, Weekley]. Giving the fig (Old French faire la figue, Spanish dar la higa) was an indecent gesture of ancient provenance, made by putting the thumb between two fingers or into the mouth, with the intended effect of the modern gesture of "flipping the bird" (see bird (n.3)). Also compare sycophant.

Use of fig leaf in figurative sense of "flimsy disguise" (1550s) is from Genesis iii.7. Fig-faun translates Latin faunus ficarius (Jeremiah l.39). Fig Newtons (by 1907) are named for Newton, Massachusetts.

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lickspittle (n.)
also lick-spittle, "sycophant, abject toady, one who will do any repulsive thing," 1741, from lick (v.1) + spittle. Phrase lick the spittle as a repulsive act is from 1640s.
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brown-nose (v.)

also brownnose, 1939, American English colloquial, said to be military slang originally, from brown (adj.) + nose (n.), "from the implication that servility is tantamount to having one's nose in the anus of the person from whom advancement is sought" [Webster, 1961, quoted in OED]. Related: Brown-noser (by 1945, early citations suggest military slang), brown-nosing (by 1950). British bumsucker "sycophant" is attested from 1877.

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corollary (n.)

late 14c., "a proposition inadvertently proved in proving another," from Late Latin corollarium "a deduction, consequence," from Latin corollarium, originally "money paid for a garland," hence "gift, gratuity, something extra;" and in logic, "a proposition proved from another that has been proved." From corolla "small garland," diminutive of corona "a crown" (see crown (n.)).

Also in Middle English "a follower, a sycophant" (late 14c.). As an adjective, "of the nature of a corollary," mid-15c.

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claw (v.)

Old English clawian "to scratch, claw," from the same root as claw (n.). Related: Clawed; clawing. Compare Dutch klaauwen, Old High German klawan, German klauen.

To claw back"regain by great effort" is from 1953; as a noun, an act of this, from 1969. Earlier clawback (n.) meant "one who fawns on another, a sycophant" (1540s), from phrase claw the back "flatter, curry favor" (late 14c.); compare the more recent expression scratch (someone's) back in a similar sense.

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ass-kissing (adj.)

"currying favor," by 1946 (as arse-kissing), apparently from or popularized by military slang in World War II. Ass-kisser is by 1943. Grose's 1788 "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue" has "A kiss mine arse fellow," defined as "a sycophant." As for the verbal phrase, the Towneley Plays, c. 1460, has Cain telling off Abel with "Com kis myne ars." A 1668 book of "Songs Alamode, Composed by the most Refined Wits of this Age" has a song with the line "And thou maist kiss mine Arse," and of course the Miller's Tale.

In early 20c. American-English ass-licker may have been more common than ass-kisser, at least in print sources, perhaps from German influence. "Leck mich im Arsch" is at least 18c., the title of a Mozart party song, the phrase having been branded into the minds of German readers by Goethe in "Götz von Berlichingen" (1773), where it is the hero's dramatic reply to a call to surrender. (E.g. the reply of Tjaden to the bullying NCO in "All Quiet on the Western Front," where Remarque euphemistically describes it as "dem bekanntesten Klassikerzitat.")

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