Curry Favor, to

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Meaning of Idiom 'Curry Favor'

To curry favor means to try to gain an advantage or to seek someone's approval flattery and sycophantic and servile behavior.

There are many idioms related to curry favor, most of which are stronger in meaning and more dissaproving:

Usage

The above variants are much more common today than curry favor, which is usually seen only in more formal written contexts.

Examples:

"Trying to curry favor with the king, Damocles irritated the king to the point he decided to teach the courtier a lesson, leading to the idiom sword of Damocles."

"Some students try to curry favor with the professor by feigning excessive interest or passion for the subject."

"Despite his currying favor with his directors, Thomas is actually a fine actor."

Origin

According to some sources, this expression can be traced to the Old French estriller fauvel, "to curry the fallow (tawny) horse." This came into English during the early 1400's as curry fauvel. The verb curry meant to groom an animal such as a horse with a currycomb. 2

Although this may be a case of folk etymology, the most common suggestion for the origin of the expression is that it derived from a fourteenth-century Franch romance Le Roman de Fauvel. This work is similar to earlier French texts such as Roman de La Rose and Roman de Renart.

This allegorical work featured a horse name Fauvel as its central character. Fauvel lives in the royal stables but, with the help of Dame Fortune moves into the master's court where he gains power, causing many noblemen and church authorities to come to groom him and grovel. It is possible and widely suggested that fallow horses had long been associated with duplicity or falsity.

By the 16th century, owing to the forgotten origins of the expression, the fauvel had been replaced by favor. 1,2

Sources
1. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
2. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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