What term would communicate something similar to "brown noser", without the vulgar connotation?

(Here's one citation of the term being used by WWII soldiers, but I'm guessing it was used before that. In any case, the term is used by people in American culture today. From the link to WWII Vocabulary: "Brown-noser: Ass-kisser. To curry favor, or “boot-lick.” Variation: Brownie"

What term/phrase communicates 'speaking or acting to please those with authority or position to gain favor', without the crude connotation of the term 'brown-noser'?

Example sentence:

"Did you hear what Bob said about the company track record in our employee meeting yesterday? He's a ______"


6 Answers 6


I always like "sycophant" for the noun, "obsequious" (as mentioned) for the adjective.

syncophant, from Merriam-Webster

a person who praises powerful people in order to get their approval

  • Obsequious is one of my all-time favourite words.
    – Ste
    Jun 24, 2016 at 7:35
  • 3
    you should improve this answer with citations and links. You'll then no doubt garner even more upvotes.
    – Ste
    Jun 24, 2016 at 7:51
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    Thanks! This is only my second attempt at an answer, so perhaps I should read over the FAQs, etc., on answering.
    – Brian
    Jun 24, 2016 at 20:42
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    I added a definition and a link because I liked syncophant. ( If you don't like my edit, you can edit it back.) @Ste was serious about the need to add citations and links to answers.
    – ab2
    Jun 24, 2016 at 22:17
  • There's an extra "n" in sycophant Oct 11, 2022 at 16:05

Lickspittle is somewhat less vulgar, without getting too nice about the matter.


  1. A fawning toady; a base sycophant.
  • +1. Interesting. I'd heard of arselick/bootlick/lick but not this one.
    – k1eran
    Jun 24, 2016 at 21:27

toady (n.)  one who flatters in the hope of gaining favors :  sycophant — M-W

By the way, M-W give some interesting etymology ...

In 17th-century Europe, a toadeater was a showman's assistant whose job was to make the boss look good. The toadeater would eat (or pretend to eat) what were supposed to be poisonous toads. His or her charlatan master would then "save" the toad-afflicted assistant by expelling the poison. It's little wonder that such assistants became symbolic of extreme subservience, and that toadeater became a word for any obsequious underling. By the early 1800s, it had been shortened and altered to toady, our current term for a servile self-seeker.


Apple-polisher, backscratcher, backslapper, bootlicker, doter, fawner, flatterer, flunky, bobblehead, kowtower, lackey, sycophant, minion, teacher's pet, and yes-man (or yes-person) all seem to convey the idea of that type of person sans vulgarity.


Although I think Brian's answer is the best, I offer two more adjectives:


Having or showing an excessive willingness to serve or please others


Prepared to obey others unquestioningly


Example sentence: "Did you hear what Bob said about the company track record in our employee meeting yesterday? He's a politically savvy career diplomat."

Interestingly, when people in power curry favour of their underlings, it's closer to: "He's a populist media whore."

  • 1
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    – Helmar
    Jul 24, 2016 at 10:12

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