kowtow » cow-tow

Variant(s):  cowtow, cow tow, cow-tao, cow toe

Classification: English – questionable

Spotted in the wild:

  • “I don’t expect other countries to cow-tow to my English, we should NOT cow-tow to their language and desires to not bother to learn our language and ways.” (link)
  • “Does Bush cow-tow to Mexico?” (link)
  • “They cow tow to a minority of the party instead of their constituents.” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Arnold Zwicky (link)
  • Paul Brians (link)

From my Language Log discussion: This one … was noted in a discussion on the Eggcorn Forum back in March. You can google up a pile of hits; it’s all over the place. The question then is whether this is a simple misspelling, with initial /k/ spelled by the more common C rather than K; or a spelling like pail for pale in beyond the pail …; or an eggcorn in which cows are somehow involved (a possibility that the posters on the forum found unlikely). It is, of course, possible that different people have hit on the spelling by different routes.

(The second possibility is that the expression has been reshaped so as to contain a familiar element (two familiar elements, in the case of cow-tao), but without any improvement in the semantics — what I called a “demi-eggcorn” in this Language Log posting.)

Back in November 2005 on the Eggcorn Forum, Ken Lakritz noted cow toe as a variant spelling of kowtow. He suggested that showing deference by kissing someone’s toe might be involved in this version — but it could be based on a mispronunciation of written {kowtow} (or {cow-tow}), based on the fact that {tow} can be pronounced like toe.

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2007/10/21 |

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