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kowtow (n.)

also kow-tow, 1804, from Chinese k'o-t'ou, custom of touching the ground with the forehead while kneeling as a gesture of respect or submission, literally "knock the head," from k'o "knock, bump" + t'ou "head."

kowtow (v.)

also kow-tow, 1826 in the figurative sense of "act in an obsequious manner," from kowtow (n.). Literal sense in English is from 1848. Related: Kowtowed; kowtowing.

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Definitions of kowtow from WordNet
1
kowtow (v.)
bend the knees and bow in a servile manner;
Synonyms: scrape / genuflect
kowtow (v.)
try to gain favor by cringing or flattering;
He is always kowtowing to his boss
Synonyms: fawn / toady / truckle / bootlick / kotow / suck up
2
kowtow (n.)
a former Chinese custom of touching the ground with the forehead as a sign of respect or submission;
Synonyms: kotow
From wordnet.princeton.edu