Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Obsequious

I was on a conference call last week and a sales guy on the call said, "Sorry if that wasn't clear; I didn't mean to be obsequious."

The pedantic grammarian in me (totally fallible, but we won't discuss that right now) went "Ha HA! That is NOT what obsequious means!" Because you see, he is terribly arrogant and thinks he's smarter than everyone else and likes to use big words, except he was wrong, wrong, wrong (la la la!) in this case. Who's Mr. Smarty Pants now! Not you! (I'm sorry. But he's bad.) And also, he said the word in a snooty tone. But I said nothing, choosing instead to sit in a smug little stew. What Arrogant Sales Guy meant to say was "obtuse."

And then I thought, "Oooh. Obsequious would be a good Word Up."

Obsequious means to be compliant with someone else's orders or wishes, in a expedient way. A servant is obsequious. Sometimes obsequious has a dark side to it. To what end is the servant really obsequious? Is it because he or she is paid to be, or because he or she really wants to do the master's bidding? Unless it's a dominatrix situation, I'm thinking most people aren't sincere when being obsequious. I mean, I totally wouldn't be.

Perhaps the subtle alternate meaning of obsequious -- that of insincere biding of time until one can rise up and overcome -- is best defined by this little gem of a web site:

So here's the funny part: I have to play nice with Arrogant Sales Guy, because in the end, I need to be professional. So when it comes to supporting him in the sales process, I am obsequious. Yes, that's right, my righteousness has bitten me in the arse.

That's what I get for being all uppity about it.


Lt. Cccyxx said...

Re: the dark side of the word - often when I see "obsequious" it implies servility so over the top that it's sarcastic/intended to be patronizing. So that'd be like you on your conference call responding to arrogant sales guy: "Oh no, arrogant sales guy, you weren't obsequious at all." [meaningful glance at others in the room] "We always read you loud and clear over here." [eye roll] etc.

Valerie Wangnet said...

This is one of my fave words!! Always look for an excuse to use it ... but I feel pretensions doing so in everyday conversation. Here is Aus we use the term “sucking up”

Thanks for sharing

Julie Dao said...

HA! I used this word last week to describe my co-worker. (Not in front of his face, of course, because he would definitely know what it meant.) Also, ingratiating and sycophantic.

Travener said...

"Unctuous, servile and obsequious, Travener tried to gain the favors of his secret lover, Sierra, but failed as miserably as a slimy toad trying to climb a greased pole."

Cynthia Reese said...

Tee-hee! Too funny!

Anonymous said...

Great ost and the above comment was hilarious. I've never had occasion to use this word unfortnately, as cool as it may be.

Simon C. Larter said...

I kind of thought obsequious had overtones of sycophancy to it. Could just be me. Then again, I got rid of my sycophants. They kept telling me I was awesome, which, y'know, I am, but I don't need them to tell me that.

Lola Sharp said...

Another delightful post, Sierra.
Though, you are far more mature than I.
I would have pulled something along the lines of Lt. Cccyxx. I would have killed him with sarcastic kindness.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Oh Lt, I totally was like that on the phone, except experience tells me that snark in professional settings always comes back to bit me on the pum.

Valerie – Sucking up works :)

Julie – Perhaps this is a coworker type word :)

Trav – a slimy toad clumbing up a greased pole!!! LOL!

Cynthia – glad!

Atsiko – Here’s betting you use it within the next two weeks.

Nemesis – It makes total sense that our respective minions are obsequious to us.

Lola – Well, maturity is subjective – I do write an awful lot about pee, apparently.

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