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To kowtow is to kneel and touch the forehead to the ground in expression of respect, worship, or submission. It is a rare loanword from Mandarin Chinese. It’s often used metaphorically to mean to show servile deference. It also functions as a noun denoting the act of kowtowing.

Kowtow is the accepted spelling. Kotow, cowtow, cow tow, kow-tow, and kow tow have been pushed out by the now standard form. Like other long-established loanwords, kowtow does not need to be italicized in normal use, and it doesn’t need to be in quotation marks.


If we don’t want them kowtowing before bankers and hedge-fund managers, well, we have to change the laws governing our elections. [Washington Post]

This refusal to kowtow to social expectations appealed to Feig. [Guardian]

If you want to win a race for the White House, you schmooze political operatives, not NBC executives or former celebrities willing to kowtow to you. [Forbes]

As for “Uncle Tom,” that epithet for a black weakling who kowtows to whites, Reynolds points out that it was hardly an innovation of the 1960s. [Boston Globe]