It seems I can’t read the news these days without being flummoxed by how many toadies there are out in the world. So here’s a post on toady & its synonyms.
In the 1600s, the assistants of performing charlatans were sometimes forced to eat a “poisonous” toad so the charlatan could amaze the crowd by expelling the “poison”. Not surprisingly, these assistants were known as toad-eaters. In time, the term got shortened to toady & the meaning morphed to a servile parasite or fawning flatterer.
Our modern meaning of flunky came about in 1855 (flatterer or toady). Flunky came from a Scottish word meaning footman or servant. It’s believed the pejorative shift was influenced by the requirement that footmen run through the mud & mire alongside a noble’s carriage.
In 1846 the term bootlicker (or boot-licker) was born. It came from the 1600s term footlicker, & means a servile follower.
An adulator is one who engages in excessive or slavish admiration. This word comes through Old French from Latin, & initially meant to fawn, as a dog after its owner. The etymological jury is still out, but it is likely adulator came from words meaning to wag the tail.
An Old Norse word meaning prone gave us the word grovel, which gave us the word groveler some time in the 1500s. The meanings of groveler include one who creeps with the face on the ground, & one who abases him/herself.
Flatterer came form the word flatter which appeared in the 1200s, meaning, to praise insincerely. It came from Proto-Germanic through Old French, & initially meant one who throws or flings him/herself to the ground.
Though we might expect the word sycophant to be the more academic & classy of these words, its roots are crude & sexist. Sycophant came through Latin and Middle French from a Greek word that translates literally to one who shows the fig. This refers to a crass, misogynist gesture ancient Greek men used to taunt one another. From the Things Never Change Department, Etymonline.org notes that, “…politicians in ancient Greece held aloof from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents.” Initially, sycophant meant informer or slanderer, but by the 1570s, the meaning shifted to mean, servile flatterer.
By August I will resolve my inability to reply to comments on my own blog. Still, if you’ve got something to say about all this, please leave a comment.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Lexico, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline.