When I first heard this phrase as a teenager (late 90s/early 2000s), it was being used to describe sycophantic talk or fulsome praise of someone. At the time, I figured the phrase originated as a comparison with the way a dog might lick its master profusely when it is scared or wants something. I haven't used this phrase in a long time, and recently, I used it. I suppose it's an unfortunate consequence of living in a hypersexualized era, but a while after the conversation, I got to wondering if I should have used that phrase (I was talking to someone older, whom I respect), because it might have a connotation that is quite different from what I originally thought.

Edit: Prompted by Jason Bassford, here is a relatively recent example used by a well-known online publication, The Huffington Post:

All The Hard-Hitting Questions Sean Hannity Asked Donald Trump At A ‘Town Hall’ This Week - In which we watch a televised tongue bath so you don’t have to.

Among mature, educated speakers, does this phrase have any vulgar or sexual connotations?

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    It didn't until you suggested it. ;) I've always thought of the phrase as describing a cat cleaning itself. (I've never heard it used to refer to anything else.) Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 18:37
  • @JasonBassford Well, before I posted the question, I googled the phrase, and several of the top results indicated it does. The problem was, these were rather low-quality (even if popular) sites, so I posted this question here, because it's a serious place with serious people. My question has been downvoted, and that's fine except I really can't think of a good reason for it; it only concerns me because I don't want to run afoul of the community here in the future.
    – user
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 19:12
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    Speaking as a mature, educated speaker - the expression is not one that I would, personally, ever use, in any context that I can possibly think of.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 19:51
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    But consider: the term “brown-nose” is obviously based on an intimate, physical act between two people, but it is now used in a euphemistic way that doesn’t directly invoke the vulgar etymology/imagery — … (Cont’d) Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 3:03
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    (Cont’d) ...  it is defined as “curry favor with (someone) by acting in an obsequious way”  (ODO, see also Collins English Dictionary) and “to try too hard to please someone, especially someone in a position of authority, in a way that other people find unpleasant”  (Cambridge English Dictionary, see also Macmillan Dictionary). Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 3:03

1 Answer 1


The expression tongue bath does have a sexual connotation, (an obvious one, IMO:)

A sexual licking of another's body.

  • 2005, Jack Rinella, Becoming a Slave: The Theory and Practice of Voluntary Servitude, Rinella Editorial Services.

  • If you try giving or receiving a tongue bath, you will notice that it seldom gets completed.

Sycophantic praise:

2017: "Donald Trump Tweets About His “Enormously Consensual Presidency" by Matthew Dessem, Slate.

  • It’s possible that Trump meant to include the URL of Goodwin’s tongue-bath of an article instead of his email address.


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