Meaning of kowtow in English:


Pronunciation /kaʊˈtaʊ/

See synonyms for kowtow

Translate kowtow into Spanish


[no object]
  • 1Act in an excessively subservient manner.

    ‘she didn't have to kowtow to a boss’
    • ‘He didn't kowtow to anyone, said what he pleased, dressed as he pleased.’
    • ‘He is grateful for it, but he is not going to kowtow to anybody.’
    • ‘Must we forever kowtow to US imperialism and be treated like the illegitimate children of the global economy?’
    • ‘But at the same time, they're not going to kowtow to the defense either.’
    • ‘The poor athletes have to cringe and crawl and kowtow to the mighty officials and association members in order to get a place in the Olympic contingent.’
    • ‘While persuading believers to put less emphasis on ritual, he must also set up a real deterrent - courts with real teeth that do not kowtow to rich thieves.’
    • ‘Tributes were paid to Councillors Jimmy Moloney and Damian Ryan for refusing to kowtow to the Heavy Hand Brigade and for walking out of the meeting in protest.’
    • ‘And the majority, in an effort to prove its multiracial credentials, must always kowtow to them in today's politically correct world.’
    • ‘If most people no longer have to kowtow to politicians in order to have a secure retirement, a wide swath of the political spectrum will lose a major justification for its existence.’
    • ‘Those judging come September time should not kowtow to the idea that we need to regurgitate past glories in order for the results to be recognisable to an international audience.’
    • ‘He emphasized his ‘refusal to kowtow to the Occupiers.’’
    • ‘Their first major film was Pastor Hall, the moving account of a German preacher who refuses to kowtow to the Nazis.’
    • ‘She has been jailed because she refused to kowtow to a government demand that would make any independent reporting virtually impossible.’
    • ‘But we cannot sacrifice the present and the future to kowtow to a legend.’
    • ‘And yet, the developed world often behaves as if those on the rest of the globe must gratefully kowtow to it.’
    • ‘It forbids forcing every American to kowtow to the beliefs of any sect.’
    • ‘Surely that is one of the things we expect of an independent civil service - that it should not kowtow to its political masters.’
    • ‘They did not kowtow to the demands of an unreasonable employer.’
    • ‘Because of the fact that he didn't kowtow to a lot of white interests, a lot of people carry a grudge against Miles.’
    • ‘Some people blame it on the fact that he isn't going to kowtow to anyone.’
    grovel, behave obsequiously, be obsequious, be servile, be sycophantic, fawn on, bow and scrape, toady, truckle, abase oneself, humble oneself, prostrate oneself
    View synonyms
  • 2 historical Kneel and touch the ground with the forehead in worship or submission as part of Chinese custom.

    ‘In ‘Keeper of the Keys,’ Chan has to deal with a much older Chinese servant who kowtows to his white master in embarrassing fashion.’
    • ‘Supplicants no longer approached the imperial presence on their knees, bruising their foreheads as they kowtowed so hard that the emperor heard their respect from the sound of their heads hitting the floor.’
    • ‘They said his actions were more wicked and despicable than earlier claims of a foreign hostess forcing Chinese female workers to kowtow and a security guard frisking female workers.’
    • ‘Master Mo went to Xianhua Hill in pray for good rain, he knelt and kowtowed every step he advanced forward.’
    • ‘Once a relative even asked the representative of the receiver to kowtow to the dead at the farewell ceremony.’
    prostrate oneself, bow, bow down before, genuflect, do obeisance, make obeisance, fall on one's knees before, get down on one's knees before, kneel before
    View synonyms


  • An act of kowtowing as part of Chinese custom.

    • ‘Chang kowtows before the Emperor, who tells him of his mission.’


Early 19th century from Chinese kētóu, from kē ‘knock’ + tóu ‘head’.