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

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Learning a new word to add to your vocabulary is an amazing tool. It can liven up your language and spice up your writing. Not to mention, it helps to grow your mind and can make you a better person. 

One word to add to your vocabulary is obsequious. This word is a unique, colorful term that can help you make a relevant observation about somebody. It’s a helpful descriptor that can be used as a helpful tool or even an insult.

What Is the Meaning of the Word Obsequious?

The word obsequious is long, but its definition is fairly straightforward. It can be used as an adjective or adverb, meaning you can say or write it in several distinct situations. Here’s the definition of the word obsequious, pronounced əbˈsiːkwiəs:

  • Obedient to or praising someone at an excessive level 

Essentially, obsequious just means that somebody is a little too eager to obey or praise somebody else. This constant, excessive desire and attentiveness is considered strange and excessive. 

This word is mostly used disapprovingly, and it can even be used as an insult. Generally speaking, it is not a very positive word. It’s used to describe a servile person or action that is obsessive and borderline inappropriate. 

In the English language, this word is not incredibly common. Many would consider it to be a sophisticated or obscure word. It is often a very pointed and formal way to insult somebody.

An obsequious person is cringy in how eager they are to serve somebody. They are at a person’s beck and call to an uncomfortable extent. In a servile manner, they go to extravagant lengths to serve that person, and it is generally not good to be described as obsequious. 

Shakespeare and the Word Obsequious

Part of the reason this word is considered sophisticated is because it appears a few times in the writings of Shakespeare. The word obsequious appears in Sonnet 125, Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Measure for Measure.

Where Did the Word Obsequious Come From?

To help clarify the definition of obsequious, let’s look at the history of how it came to be, or its etymology. This word, in particular, has interesting Indo-European roots that span centuries.

The word obsequious, like so many words in English, comes from Latin. Its oldest Latin ancestor is the word obsequi, which means “to accommodate yourself to somebody else’s wishes.” 

The word obsequi or obsequ is a combination of the Latin sequi, which means “to follow,” and the Latin prefix ob, which means “after.” So, it translates to “to follow after.” 

This word took on another Latin form: obsequium, which means “compliance and devoted service.” It then evolved again to the Latin obsequiosus, which means “obedient.” So, as the word evolved, its meaning stayed relatively the same, but it intensified with time. 

It is from the Latin obsequiosus that we get the English word obsequious. This word first entered Middle English in the latter part of the 15th century. Back then, it had a more humble connotation to it. It wasn’t a deprecating term in the beginning. 

However, the word would garner a more negative connotation over the following decades and centuries. Eventually, it became associated with fawning over somebody and being unreasonably devoted and compliant to them. 

Since then, the word has steadily declined in its usage, so no further evolutions have happened to it. As the English language has become more casual and less formal, terms like this are becoming less and less common, especially in American English. It’s not even a mainstay on many vocabulary word lists.

What Are Some Examples of the Word Obsequious in a Sentence?

Seeing a word in context can help clarify its definition and how you can use it in your own life. Here are some example sentences that use the word obsequious:

After taking an unnecessary obsequious bow, the servant offered to feed grapes to the young Lord straight from the vine.

These obsequious servants are constantly breathing down my neck, asking if I need anything, but all I really want is to be left alone.

After all of this bootlicking and obsequious behavior, I’m ready for somebody to disagree with this guy.

He surrounds himself with obsequious yes-men who just do whatever he wants and agree with everything he says.

There’s nothing worse than obsequious waiters who constantly interrupt your meal to ask if they can do menial tasks.

The obsequious shop assistants kept asking if I needed help and wouldn’t let me shop in peace.

Her obsequious manner was overbearing, so I had to break up with her, but she wouldn’t let go.

I was just cringing at how obsequious this guy was to his girlfriend. What a simp!

What Are the Synonyms of the Word Obsequious?

Here are some synonyms of obsequious that you might find in a thesaurus:

  • Toadying/toadyish
  • Servile
  • Bootlicking
  • Ass-kissing
  • Brown-nosing
  • Simping

What Are Some Antonyms for Obsequious?

Here are some antonyms for obsequious:

  • Arrogant
  • Assertive
  • Brazen
  • Confident
  • Presumptuous

A Final Word on Obsequious

That’s everything you need to know to use the word obsequious in your writing and conversation. This word can have some negative connotations, so be careful not to use it to describe someone unless you really mean it. We can all be a little obsequious sometimes, especially when we want to please or impress someone. It’s only human.


Obsequious | Alexander Schmidt, Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary

OBSEQUIOUS | Cambridge English Dictionary 

obsequious | Middle English Compendium | University of Michigan