Curry Favor – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Have you ever noticed someone trying to suck up to the boss? Perhaps your coworker brings in treats that everyone likes just to make friends? On the other hand, are you looking for a way to get an edge? If so, then the phrase curry favor is an apt expression for you. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The meaning of the phrase curry favor is basically to get on someone’s good side through flattery. In many instances, it is just referred to as sucking up, or brownnosing. Most people who try to curry favor use obsequious behavior to get close to their target for their own benefit. In some cases, currying favor may be done for the benefit of a larger group or for a greater purpose. The sole point of currying favor is to get some benefit or favor out of another person.

Giving someone an excessive amount of positive attention in order to get something in return is a good example of currying favor. Paying compliments to butter one's ego, or even giving gifts are other examples of currying favor. Doing things specifically to gain the support of another person is currying favor. It is typically disingenuous as the same actions would be performed if the target had nothing of value to offer.

Example Usage

“There is no point in trying to curry favor with the boss, she is an ice queen that shows no mercy”.

“I watched him do everything in his power to curry favor with the judge from simple flattery to thinly veiled flirtations”.

“Just give me some tips on how to curry favor with the supervisor, I really need my PTO approved”.

“Look at you trying to curry favor with me just to get time with your boys this weekend”.


The phrase curry favor can be traced back to 1557. The folk saying curry Favell and the Middle English saying core favel are its roots. The original form of the phrase means to flatter a person for personal gain. The literal translation is “to curry the fallow-colored horse”. The phrase also existed in Middle French which translated to “to use trickery, deceive”. All older forms of the phrase hold the same meaning as what the phrase means today, albeit with more negative tones.

The phrase has always been linked with falsehood and trickery. In the 13th century and later, the phrase went on to further stand for duplicitous actions and behaviors. A poem penned in 1310 denoted a donkey by the name of fauvel who became the king. The feat was achieved by taking over the palace stable, and thereafter his is cleaned and curried by the clergy and nobility. The phrase curry favor is both a literal and figurative nod to the story.

Phrases Similar to Curry Favor

  • Brown-nose
  • Boot-lick
  • Toady
  • Suck-up
  • Apple-polish
  • Fuss over
  • Kow-tow
  • Fawn over
  • Bribe

Phrases Opposite to Curry Favor

  • Honorable
  • Stuck up
  • Standoffish
  • Scrupulousness
  • Maintain integrity

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The proper saying is – to curry favor.

Ways People May Incorrectly Say Curry Favor

Some ways that Curry Favor is used incorrectly are:

  • The best way to cook for South Asians is by currying their favor.
  • In order to curry favor, you should always be direct and honest.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Curry Favor

Some ways that Curry Favor is used correctly are:

  • The lords in the lower house are always trying to curry favor with the power that be.
  • Nothing is wrong with trying to curry a little favor with the teachers, it can mean the difference between passing and failing.
  • Try to curry favor with his parents before you ask for anything major. It will put everyone in a good mood.
  • Instead of playing hardball, try to curry favor with the people who run the department instead.

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