Sycophant Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

If you’d like to know what sycophant means, we can help. Read on as we explore the meaning of sycophant, its origin, and more.

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Are you a sycophant? And if someone calls you that, is it a good thing or a bad thing? If you’ve heard the word sycophant but aren’t 100 percent sure what it means, the Word Counter is here to help. 

Read on to expand your vocabulary and learn everything there is to know about this interesting word.

What Does Sycophant Mean? 

To understand what the term sycophant means, let’s review a few definitions:

  • According to the Collins Dictionary, a sycophant is an individual who behaves in a sycophantic way. 
  • In a different definition provided by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word sycophant is defined as a servile self-seeking flatterer.
  • The term sycophant is also defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as someone who praises powerful or wealthy people in a way that is not sincere, usually in order to get some type of advantage from them. 

Although each definition differs slightly, we can conclude that the word sycophant is a noun used to describe a person who attempts to gain an advantage by flattering influential people.

Sycophant is phonetically similar to the term psycho but doesn’t carry the connotation of being crazy. It makes the word sycophantic as well as sycophantically and denotes an “insincere flatterer” in modern English.  

What Is the Etymology of Sycophant?

Sycophant may be a new term in your spoken vocabulary, but it has origins dating back to the mid-16th century. Yup, it’s true — from French sycophante “slanderer,” or via Latin from Greek sūkophantēs (or sūkon phainein) meaning “informer,” from sukon meaning “fig,” plus phainein meaning “to show” or “reveal,” perhaps with reference to making the insulting gesture of the “fig” (sticking the thumb between two fingers) to informers.

Although it’s not crystal-clear how fig revealers became slanderers, one theory explains it may have something to do with the taxes Greek farmers were required to pay on the figs they brought to the market. Apparently, farmers would sometimes try to avoid making the payments, but squealers — aka fig revealers — would fink on them, and they would be forced to pay.

Despite its popularity in the Ancient Greek language when it was introduced in the legal system of Classical Athens, the term sycophant has declined in usage over the last few centuries with most English speakers these days using synonyms instead. 

Synonyms and Antonyms of Sycophant

To strengthen your understanding of the word sycophant, it can be helpful to learn the term’s synonyms and antonyms. A synonym is a word that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. In contrast, an antonym refers to a word opposite in meaning to another. 

The synonyms of sycophant include:

  • Flatter
  • Toady
  • Yes-man
  • Suck-up
  • Kiss-ass
  • Backscratcher
  • Bootlicker
  • Brown-noser
  • Teacher’s pet
  • Minion
  • Lackey
  • Goody-goody
  • Goody two-shoes
  • Creep
  • Crawler
  • Fawner
  • Flunkey
  • Doormat
  • Lickspittle
  • Groupie
  • Entourage
  • Fan
  • Obsequious
  • Parasite
  • Trickster
  • Base parasite

The antonyms of sycophant include:

  • Arrogant
  • Haughty
  • High-handed
  • Imperious
  • Lordly
  • Superior
  • Uppity
  • Supercilious
  • Unservile
  • Sincere
  • Unsubmissive

How Can Sycophant Be Used in a Sentence?

Now that you understand what sycophant means, you may be wondering how to use the term in a sentence. Worry not, we’ve put together many great usage examples below:

“The artist’s assistant was a sycophant who offered her boss compliments at every turn.”

“Apparently, she had gone from servant to sycophant in a matter of days.”

“Because Tom is high-ranking, he’s always surrounded by sycophants.”

“When Robert went to Princeton University, he quickly became a sycophant in an attempt of getting a better grade.”

“Due to the limited number of spots, many people turned into sycophants.”

“These energetic politicians can easily muster crowds of blindly loyal sycophants.”

“Despite having no personal stake in the cases, the overly litigious citizens became sycophants.”

“Sarah’s mistake was to surround herself with sycophants.”

“Look, I don’t care if you’re a sycophant; no amount of compliments in the world will change my mind.”

“Okay fine, I will admit that I am a sycophant from time to time.”

“Jerry’s fortune has been siphoned off by lawyers and sycophants.”

“Look deep inside your soul and tell me that you’re not a sycophant.”

“In Athenian culture, the meaning of the word sycophant comes from an individual making a lascivious gesture resembling a fig and/or the unlawful exportation of figs.”

“How many of their loyal sycophants are going to actually read it?”

“Politicians are sycophants and usually not very reliable.”

“If you’re going to be on the police force, don’t ever be somebody’s lapdog or sycophant.”

“Her opponent doesn’t seem to have any fans or sycophants.”

A Final Word

So, what does sycophant mean, you ask?

Put simply, the term sycophant can be defined by the dictionary of the English language as an individual who attempts to gain an advantage by flattering influential people or behaving in a servile manner. Synonyms of sycophant include brown-noser, teacher’s pet, bootlicker, ass-kisser, toady, and yes-man. 

The term originated with the legal system of Classical Athens. Derived from the Greek word sukophantēs, meaning “informer,” sycophant comes from sukon, which means ‘fig’ and phainein, which means “to show.” The association was with informing against the illegal exportation of figs from ancient Athens.

We hope this guide has provided you with all the information you need to truly understand the meaning of sycophant. Not to get confused with psychopath, sycophant does not hold the connotation of being crazy. However, in the eyes of many people, if you are a sycophant — then you are crazy!


  1. SYCOPHANT | definition in the | Cambridge English Dictionary
  2. Sycophant definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary
  3. sycophant noun – Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes | Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary