I ran into an unfamiliar word recently: sycophant. I am wondering now if -phant means anything, but simple Google searches aren't leading me anywhere. A couple of results:

  1. Hierophant – someone who shows sacred things
  2. Phantasm – an image of someone [although it could be any image I would think]

Does anyone know if these are related, or is this just coincidence?

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    Try googling for hierophant etymology and this is what comes up first. Note that this comes from the Greek verb φαίνω 'to show, display, exhibit, explain, inform'. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 3:34

4 Answers 4


The Greek root words in sycophant are sukon and phainein, the latter meaning "to show".

Your words are indeed related by this root word, as are fantasy, phenomenon, diaphanous, emphasis, epiphany and others.


This word ultimately comes from Greek, as the "y" and "ph" in the spelling suggest. The phant part does indeed carry the meaning of "something/someone that shows", from the Ancient Greek verb φαίνω "phaino" meaning "to show".The "syco-" part is believed to have come from the word for "fig", but it is somewhat mysterious how the word developed from "fig-shower" to its present meaning. The older meaning was "informer". You can often find etymological information like this in dictionaries if a google search isn't working out; there are many free online ones that are easy to search.

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    Hi sumelic, and welcome to ELU. Citing a reference to support your position would make this a better answer (authoritative references are appreciated at SE sites). I've not only upvoted your answer but added a reference. Please feel free to roll back or edit if you don't want the modification. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 3:54

Reading about the PIE root helped me: the -phant originates from:

bhā-1 [=] To shine.
6. Extended and suffixed zero-grade form * bhə-n-yo‑.
fantasy, pant1, -phane, phantasm, phantom, phase, pheno-, phenomenon; diaphanous, emphasis, epiphany, glaucophane, hierophant, phaneritic, phanerogam, Phanerozoic, phantasmagoria, phosphene, sycophant, theophany, tiffany,

from Greek phainein, "to bring to light," cause to appear, show,
and phainesthai (passive), "to be brought to light," appear,
with zero-grade noun phasis (*bhə-ti‑), an appearance.

[Pokorny 1. bhā‑ 104.]


The word sycophant, to my understanding, originated in Ancient Greece. Syco- meaning fig, phant manning to show something precious. The best quality And most prized figs grew in Athens . So highly prized and precious were these figs access was the right of the Athenians only. Smuggling of the figs in order to gain favours began, and the thus the word sycophant came into being.

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