Language of origin: Chinese
About the Word:
To "kowtow" is to agree too easily or eagerly to do what someone else wants you to do, or to obey someone with power in a way that seems weak.
It comes from the Chinese kòutóu – kòu ("to knock") plus tóu ("head") – and originally referred to kneeling and touching one's head to the ground as a salute or act of worship to a revered authority.
In traditional China, this ritual was performed by commoners making requests to the local magistrate, by the emperor to the shrine of Confucius, or by foreign representatives appearing before the emperor to establish trade relations.
In the late 18th century, some Western nations resisted performing the ritual, which acknowledged the Chinese emperor as the "son of heaven."
The noun arrived in English in the early 1800s, and within a few decades had taken on the "fawn" or "suck up" verb meaning we use today.
(From Merriam-Webster Online Top Ten list of favourite words from foreign languages)