Etymology of term:
The origin of the Ancient Greek word συκοφάντης (sykophántēs) disparages the unjustified accuser who has in some way perverted the legal system.
The original etymology of the word (sukon/sykos/συκος fig, and
phainein/fanēs/φανης to show) “revealer of figs”—has been the subject of
extensive scholarly speculation and conjecture. Plutarch
appears to be the first to have suggested that the source of the term
was in laws forbidding the exportation of figs, and that those who
leveled the accusation against another of illegally exporting figs were
therefore called sycophants. Athenaeus provided a similar explanation. Blackstone's Commentaries
repeats this story, but adds an additional take—that there were laws
making it a capital offense to break into a garden and steal figs, and
that the law was so odious that informers were given the name
sycophants. A different explanation of the origin of the term by
Shadwell was that the sycophant refers to the manner in which figs are
harvested, by shaking the tree and revealing the fruit hidden among the
leaves. The sycophant, by making false accusations, makes the accused
yield up their fruit. The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition
listed these and other explanations, including that the making of false
accusations was an insult to the accused in the nature of "showing the fig",
an "obscene gesture of phallic significance" or, alternatively that the
false charges were often so insubstantial as to not amount to the worth
of a fig. Generally, scholars have dismissed these explanations as inventions, long after the original meaning had been lost. Danielle Allen
suggests that the term was "slightly obscene", connoting a kind of
perversion, and may have had a web of meanings derived from the
symbolism of figs in ancient Greek culture, ranging from the improper
display of one’s “figs” by being overly aggressive in pursuing a
prosecution, the unseemly revealing of the private matters of those
accused of wrongdoing, to the inappropriate timing of harvesting figs
when they are unripe.
One who approaches Greatness on his belly so that he
may not be commanded to turn and be kicked. He is sometimes an
As the lean leech, its victim found, is pleased
To fix itself upon a part diseased
Till, its black hide distended with bad blood,
It drops to die of surfeit in the mud,
So the base sycophant with joy descries
His neighbor's weak spot and his mouth applies,
Gorges and prospers like the leech, although,
Unlike that reptile, he will not let go.
Gelasma, if it paid you to devote
Your talent to the service of a goat,
Showing by forceful logic that its beard
Is more than Aaron's fit to be revered;
If to the task of honoring its smell
Profit had prompted you, and love as well,
The world would benefit at last by you
And wealthy malefactors weep anew —
Your favor for a moment's space denied
And to the nobler object turned aside.
Is't not enough that thrifty millionaires
Who loot in freight and spoliate in fares,
Or, cursed with consciences that bid them fly
To safer villainies of darker dye,
Forswearing robbery and fain, instead,
To steal (they call it "cornering") our bread
May see you groveling their boots to lick
And begging for the favor of a kick?
Still must you follow to the bitter end
Your sycophantic disposition's trend,
And in your eagerness to please the rich
Hunt hungry sinners to their final ditch?
In Morgan's praise you smite the sounding wire,
And sing hosannas to great Havemeyher!
What's Satan done that him you should eschew?
He too is reeking rich — deducting you.