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Usually used to refer to a flatterer, the Russian word подлиза literally means a downlicker: the prefix под- means down, below, beneath, or under, and the root -лиз- is common to Russian words about licking (лизать, лизун, etc.), so the whole word can be literally understood as someone who licks from below.

I am curious as to exactly what process is a flattering compared to when the flatterer is referred to as подлиза. What is the flatterer figuratively implied to lick, or what was the underlying logic when this word came to existence?

I tried to find the answer on my own and did research on the Internet, but found only explanations of the morphological composition of подлиза, so I hope that native speakers can shed some light.

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    I don't speak Russian, but there might be a meaningful comparison to be made to the English word "Bootlicker". – Nzall Dec 16 '19 at 17:21
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    Just a comment on your analysis of this word's morphology. This prefix can have other meanings; consider "подходить": to walk up close to something. I don't perceive this word as meaning "to lick from below", more like "to get closer by licking" (but don't take this as absolute truth). Obviously not all flattery is referred to this way, only the non-genuine, self-serving kind. – RomanSt Dec 16 '19 at 17:24
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    @Nzall Bootlicker, but specifically the sole of the boot. None of that half-spirited top-of-the-foot bootlicking - we're talking fully committed "let me clean off that dog poop you just stepped into" bootlicking. (Edit: don't expect everyone or even most Russians to get that impression from the term though.) – mtraceur Dec 16 '19 at 18:16
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"Подлизывать" initially meant "лизанием подчищать что-либо". There's are some other words derived from "лизать" that used to be (and some still are) used as figurative terms for flattery-related concepts, such as:

  • лизоблюд (and "лизоблюдство", also, more rare form "блюдолиз")
  • жополиз (Радищев wrote once: "Не льстец Августов и не лизорук меценатов" - my guess would be that "лизорук" was his attempt to use less rude counterpart of "жополиз", pretty much like people are using "фиг" to avoid usage of obscene lexicon).

The underlying logic is to compare the flatterer with, say a dog, who keeps licking someone hoping to get a food.

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  • Thanks a lot. So no sexual context is implied by подлиза, right? – Mitsuko Dec 16 '19 at 9:35
  • @Mitsuko nope, to my knowledge no, at least initially ;) – shabunc Dec 16 '19 at 9:38
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    @Mitsuko: I believe it's just a metaphor of a dog licking your hands so that you would pet him. – Quassnoi Dec 16 '19 at 11:06

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