Word: obsequious

Pronunciation: əb-SEE-kwee-əs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: obedient or attentive to an excessive or servile degree

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Jamie: What do you mean you told him not to go out with me?

Ira: What do I know? I met you one time; you kept showing off your vocabulary!

Jamie: [to Paul] You never told me he didn’t like me.

Paul: Because you were so down on him, I didn’t want to fuel the fire.

Ira: Wait, wait, wait, you didn’t like me?

Jamie: On first impression, you were a little obsequious.

Ira: You see? There, you’re doing it again!

Mad About You (Season 3, Episode 19 – Money Changes Everything)

The first instance in which I can remember hearing the word “obsequious” was in an episode of Mad About You. During an argument over one of Ira’s bad decisions, Jamie finds out that he initially disliked her for her pretentious use of advanced vocabulary. To make matters worse, she proves his point by calling him out on his overeagerness to please in the most patronizing way possible. But then again, knowing Ira, there’s always the chance Jamie simply used “obsequious” in place of “obnoxious”, either purposely to confuse him or by mistake because her husband’s cousin did have a tendency to be irritating in more ways than one.

An “obsequious” person is someone who is attentive or obedient to the point of excess. The word arose in the late 15th century as a non-depreciatory term and comes from the Latin noun obsequium, meaning “compliance”. This noun is derived from the verb obsequi, which means “to follow” or “to yield to”.

I have yet to work the word “obsequious” into my fiction, but I could definitely see myself using it to describe some of my characters who go out of their way to please others. Although the word didn’t originally have a negative connotation, its modern definition seems to suggest a level of obedience that borders on annoying, which I suppose makes it a sort of formal synonym for “kiss-ass”. If you tend to write characters who are relentless people-pleasers, “obsequious” may be an excellent adjective to use in your stories. With any luck, you may even teach your readers a new word!

Jamie: [muttering] Plenty of people use “obsequious”.

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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