Have you ever encountered someone whose compliments felt a little too over-the-top, whose eagerness to please seemed almost insincere? There’s a word for that type of behavior: “obsequious”. It’s a word that suggests a level of flattery and submissiveness that often misses the mark, coming across as calculating rather than genuine.

What Does “Obsequious” Mean?

“Obsequious” describes someone who is overly submissive and eager to please. Key elements of this behavior include:

  • Excessive Flattery: Obsequious individuals often pile on the compliments, even if they seem unwarranted or insincere.
  • Overeagerness to Serve: They might jump at every opportunity to do favors, big or small, to the point of neglecting their own needs.
  • Hidden Motives: Obsequious behavior is often driven by a desire to gain favor with someone in a position of power.

The Origins of “Obsequious”

“Obsequious” comes from the Latin “obsequi,” meaning “to comply” or “to follow.” Think of an obsequious person as figuratively following someone around with unwavering submission.

When to Use “Obsequious” (and When Not To)

Here’s how to use this word effectively:

  • DO use it to describe insincere flattery: “The obsequious salesperson’s endless compliments made the customer uncomfortable.”
  • DO use it when someone seems overly submissive: “New employees sometimes act obsequious towards their bosses, hoping to make a good impression.”
  • DON’T use it simply for polite behavior: Being respectful or helpful doesn’t automatically make someone obsequious.
  • DON’T use it as a casual insult: It’s a strong word, best used when the behavior is truly excessive and motivated by self-interest.

Spotting Obsequious Behavior

“Obsequious” might not be in your everyday vocabulary, but the behavior is more common than you think. Look out for people who seem overly focused on pleasing those in authority, neglecting their own needs or opinions in the process.

Why Be Wary of “Obsequious”

While we all appreciate politeness, the extreme of “obsequious” is often seen negatively. It can come across as manipulative, lacking in genuine respect, and potentially damaging to relationships where true equality is important.

Expand Your Vocabulary

“Obsequious” is a powerful word to describe a specific type of ingratiating behavior. By understanding its nuances, you’ll gain a sharper eye for social interactions and a richer vocabulary to express your observations!


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<a href="https://englishpluspodcast.com/author/dannyballanowner/" target="_self">Danny Ballan</a>

Danny Ballan


Danny is a podcaster, teacher, and writer. He worked in educational technology for over a decade. He creates daily podcasts, online courses, educational videos, educational games, and he also writes poetry, novels and music.

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