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John doesn't actively participate in class discussion, unlike his classmates. He thinks they act a bit overly and he doesn't like to woo the teachers.

Woo has two meanings:

  1. Try to gain the love of (someone, typically a woman), esp. with a view to marriage.
  2. Seek the favor, support, or custom of

In the above example, the second meaning is intended, but I wonder if the wide usage of the first meaning will perhaps make the usage of the second meaning seem weird.

What would you think? Are there better alternatives?

PS: is the usage of "overly" correct in the example?

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I don't think the origin of woo has ever been nailed down, but I suspect OP's first definition was the original meaning. Since that implies the second usage is simply metaphoric, you can hardly argue against it on the grounds of possible confusion. I think it's perfectly good (and only very slightly "flowery") use of language. The usage "they act a bit overly" seems daft to me; I'd say "they're a bit sycophantic". –  FumbleFingers Sep 22 '11 at 17:24
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Yes, in this instance it seems weird. –  Mitch Sep 22 '11 at 17:41
    
@Mitch: what would you say then? –  Tim Sep 22 '11 at 18:54
    
@Tim: I don't have any suggestions. The possibilities in the answers are better. Same situation with 'overly'. –  Mitch Sep 22 '11 at 20:30
    
@Tim. too > two. –  TRiG Jun 26 '12 at 22:53
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Alternatives would be "kowtow to" or "curry favour with", "fawn over", "brownnose". And my parser broke on "acting a bit overly".

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Acting a bit overly something. –  TRiG Jun 26 '12 at 22:59
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I think you're right. 'Suck up to' might convey the intended meaning rather more clearly, depending on the degree of formality of the context. I find the use of 'overly' in this context unusual. In British English we might substitute 'over the top'.

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I would agree on the use of "overly" - it sounds like there's a missing word to my (British) ears –  Matt Sep 22 '11 at 9:23
    
Same to my American ears. –  Charles Sep 23 '11 at 6:13
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In this case, I would say that woo is a good choice, because of the objection you raised. Because of the primary meaning, it carries that extra nuance which insinuates that the other students are acting too affectionate towards the teachers.

And I agree with @Barrie that "overly" is out of place here, but I would say it is dead wrong, unless it is an acting class. The word "acting" is a linking verb here, so an adverb is inappropriate. AmE would also use "over the top", too, by the way.

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