Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries give similar definitions of the word courtly:


of a quality befitting the court: elegant


very polite or refined, as befitting a royal court.

Other than that, each source has a slightly different addition. Merriam-Webster adds "insincerely flattering." Can anyone shed light on why that part exists? Can it also be used to describe someone who is overly polite?

Lastly, if you Google "Courtly Definition," it spits out a definition that includes "given to flattery." Can that be used to describe someone who accepted a flirtatious advance? For example, "The amount of chivalry exuded by this well-dressed man rendered the girl courtly."

  • 3
    Given to X means inclined to do X. Chivalry did not make the girl inclined to flatter others, it made her receptive to the man's flattery. Apr 28 '17 at 23:53
  • @StoneyB What would be a good sentence using that "given to flattery" definition? Apr 28 '17 at 23:55
  • "It is often mentioned as a mark of the personal weakness of an individual that he is susceptible to flattery, or what is st'll worse is given to flattery". (University Chronicle - Volume 3 - Page 106 [books.google.co.in/… Apr 29 '17 at 0:44
  • @mahmudkoya Haha, maybe I worded that incorrectly. I'm looking for a sentence with the word courtly using that specific part of the definition. Apr 29 '17 at 7:22
  • It's rarely used outside historical / literary settings (apart from in names), and few will be aware of senses other than the prototypical one you give from M-W and Lexico. Feb 19 at 15:23

OED meaning 2a of the adjective courtly as applied to persons, together with its examples is the more usual sense in which the word is used:

2a. Of persons (or their manners): Having the manners or breeding befitting the Court; polished, refined, of a high-bred courtesy.

c1450 Crt. of Love 474 Be jolif, fressh, and fete, with thinges newe, Courtly with maner.

c1460 J. Russell Bk. Nurture 679 Se þat ye haue officers boþe courtly and connynge.

1580 J. Lyly Euphues & his Eng. (new ed.) f. 74v Philautus.., curteous by nature, and courtlye by countenaunce.

1633 J. Ford Loves Sacrifice i. sig. B2 The French are passing Courtly.

1647 C. Cotterell & W. Aylesbury tr. E. C. Davila Hist. Civill Warres France i. 17 Of a courtly..behavour.

1791 F. Burney Diary June (1842) V. 213 I could but accede, though I fear with no very courtly grace.

1852 M. R. Mitford in A. G. L'Estrange Life M. R. Mitford (1870) III. xiii. 234 The most courtly gentleman that he has seen in Europe.

1874 J. R. Green Short Hist. Eng. People viii. 520 His manners were genial, and even courtly. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Sense 4a indicates that since the seventeenth-century - perhaps owing something to Shakespeare - there has existed a use of courtly to imply flattery. However as the latter word itself carries a connotation of "insincerity", I am at a loss to understand any difference between "flattery" and "insincere flattery". Whether courtly might be used to refer to someone who accepted a flirtatious advance would seem to me entirely to depend on context.

4a. In bad sense: Characterized by the fair words or flattery of courtiers.

a1616 W. Shakespeare Timon of Athens (1623) v. i. 27 To Promise, is most Courtly and fashionable. View more context for this quotation

1737 A. Pope Epist. of Horace ii. i. 13 In our own [days] (excuse some Courtly strains) No whiter page than Addison remains.

1768 H. Walpole Hist. Doubts 78 Truth sometimes escapes from the most courtly pens.

1849 T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. II. 120 A large and respectable minority voted against the proposed words as too courtly.

1870 E. A. Freeman Hist. Norman Conquest (ed. 2) I. App. 717 A more impudent case of courtly falsehood can hardly be found. (Oxford English Dictionary.)

  • @EdwinAshworth Sorry. I got interrupted when answering this last night, and didn't get back to it. Should be ok now. (In the intervening time, as one does under the lockdown, we were watching the BBC's 1995 production of Austen's Pride & Prejudice. Indications are, that so far as the late-eighteenth century gentry class were concerned both sincere and insincere communication was conducted in a courtly fashion).
    – WS2
    Feb 20 at 9:23

It's From Court


  1. Relating or belonging to a court.

  2. Elegant; polite; courtlike; flattering.

  3. Disposed to favor the great; favoring the policy or party of the court; obsequious. --Macaulay.


In the manner of courts; politely; gracefully; elegantly.

Wordigg dictionary

  • These definitions don't answer the question. Sep 22 '20 at 5:00

A New English Dictionary, from 1893, gives the definition

Characterized by the fair words and flattery of courtiers,

and two of their example sentences for this definition are:

Truth sometimes escapes from the most courtly pens,

A more impudent case of courtly falsehood can hardly be found.

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