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What is it called when you defame someone and you happen to lose respect for doing that.

For example,

"George is verbally attacking John, by doing that George is losing people's respect"


George <blank> himself by attacking John

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A neat saying which encapsulates the phenomenon you describe is, "What goes around comes around." – rhetorician Jan 19 at 16:15
"Backsplatter". – Hot Licks Jan 19 at 19:16
As a fill-in-the-blank word, hurt works quite well in the example sentence you provide. More emphatically, only hurt might convey the intended sense. – Sven Yargs Jan 19 at 21:44
could be called a "blowback", but I don't know how to phrase it around your example. – njzk2 Jan 20 at 19:03
This question reminded me of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect – Ryan Jan 21 at 4:06

14 Answers 14

up vote 33 down vote accepted

George shot himself in the foot by attacking John.

To do or say something that inadvertently undermines one's interests.


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Oh yeah, now I remember it, I think this one fits it better, it's less formal, but it's more widely used +1 – Mr. Derpinthoughton Jan 19 at 11:59
It's very common in Britain. – Charon Jan 19 at 12:00
It's very common in the US too – Mr. Derpinthoughton Jan 19 at 12:00
@Mr.Derpinthoughton Both literally and figuratively in both U.S. and Britain I'll assume. ;) – DoubleDouble Jan 19 at 21:17
@DoubleDouble hey, what do you mean by literally? :) – Mr. Derpinthoughton Jan 20 at 10:03

You could consider using the verb backfire which means:

(Of a plan or action) have an opposite and undesirable effect to what was intended: 'overzealous publicity backfired on her'.

Your example (You need to change the word order):

George's attack on John backfired on himself.

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

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This was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn't remember it, common though it is. +1 – Charon Jan 19 at 12:13
@Charon Your suggestion seems to work better. :-) – Rathony Jan 19 at 12:14
Metaphoric discharge of firearms being the common theme! – Charon Jan 19 at 12:16
"George's attack on John backfired" ....... ? – rkchl Jan 19 at 22:28
Quite similar: "backlash" or "blowback". – Graffito Jan 20 at 20:56

George undermined himself by attacking John.

ie, 'mining' under what respect you have, causing your own self to 'fall'.

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that fits it, and it's really formal – Mr. Derpinthoughton Jan 19 at 11:58
Because of the <blank> I thought you were looking for a one word answer... – rkchl Jan 19 at 12:03
I'm sorry, I'm looking for any expression that fits it, thanks for bringing a one-word answer + 1 – Mr. Derpinthoughton Jan 20 at 10:06
This is the best one-word answer, although others would also fit: "sabotaged himself" "compromised himself" "diminished himself (in the eyes of others)" – Stephen O'Flynn Jan 20 at 15:49

George diminishes himself by attacking John.

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Can you elaborate on this a bit? Any references as to its usage you may have seen somewhere? – Mohit Jan 19 at 16:58
I've used it myself, and is OK linguistically - probably best to google 'diminish oneself' or 'diminish yourself' and you will get lots of examples. – Mark Norton Jan 19 at 17:02
Please do as Mark Norton suggests and expand on your answer. – ab2 Jan 19 at 18:52
thanks for the answer +1 – Mr. Derpinthoughton Jan 20 at 10:09

George scored an own-goal by attacking John.?

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+1 for a good suggestion, -1 for lack of references. – cobaltduck Jan 19 at 14:45
Most of the world needs no reference for this. Bengals fan by any chance? – TRomano Jan 19 at 17:43
I've heard it phrased more as scored on his own goal. – DanTheMan Jan 19 at 18:06
oh, this answer is too British, just kidding, thanks for the new idiom +1 – Mr. Derpinthoughton Jan 20 at 10:08
@Mr.Derpinthoughton Well if you want it in French, it is un but contre son camp, in German ein Eigentor schießen, in Italian and Spanish un autogol, and in Brazillian Portuguese gol contra. But the rules are the same everywhere thanks to that noble organisation FIFA! – WS2 Jan 20 at 17:03

The problem with "slinging mud" or even getting into a "mudfight" with someone is that you'll often end up covered in the same mud. In fact, it's so very likely, that the concept is specifically stated in the definition example...

Casting aspersions with intent to discredit.

The campaign degenerated into mutual mudslinging, each candidate trying to tarnish the other's reputation and looking bad in the process.


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Adlai Stevenson said, "He who slings mud generally loses ground." – jejorda2 Jan 19 at 19:28
@jejorda2 I like that quote. I've expanded it into a full answer. – jkdev Jan 20 at 5:37

"Debased" : lower the moral character of (someone).

George debased himself by attacking John

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This is actually the best word for the purpose in question in the English language, as it explicitly conveys that verbally attacking another person makes one own self be considered base or crass, and thus automatically conveys the "George lost people's respect" part. – user21820 Jan 21 at 10:06
+1 I considered "defamed himself" which is apparently valid, and has a similar meaning, but I think "debased himself" is really what I was looking for (and is more common). – joeytwiddle Jan 21 at 18:25

There's an expression: "Whoever slings mud, loses ground."

It means that when you demean someone else, you demean yourself as well.

"Mudslinging" means insulting or attacking another person in order to harm his reputation or get him metaphorically dirty. "Losing ground" means falling behind in a competition, or being forced to move backwards. And it's also a play on words (mud/ground) -- when you throw something, you lose some of it.

So in this particular context, one might say "George is slinging mud and losing ground."

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Similar proverbs: *You will reap what you sow". Or more familiar: "You fuck with the bull, you get the horns". – Graffito Jan 20 at 21:00

It's a third party opinion. How about simply "George made a fool out of himself by attacking John".

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If you attack him publicly on this, you'll only be pissing into the wind.

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This implies that the tide has already turned against anyone who would criticize the figure in question. I think the question is looking for a term that implies that the criticism itself will cause the tide to turn against the critic. – recognizer Jan 19 at 17:15
Not necessaily. Depends on how it's said. Compare: "If you attack him publicly on this, ..." – TRomano Jan 19 at 17:41
Regardless, if the metaphorical "wind" is blowing, then an opposing force is there before the critic even opens their mouth. – recognizer Jan 19 at 18:11
There's always a wind blowing. – TRomano Jan 19 at 18:42
Pissing into the wind is applying a feeble force against a substantial force. I don't think this captures the idea of your own actions rebounding against yourself. – Nigel Touch Jan 19 at 18:54

George was digging his own grave by attacking John.

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George is cutting off his nose to spite his face by attacking John.

"Cutting off the nose to spite the face" is an expression used to describe a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem: "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face" is a warning against acting out of pique, or against pursuing revenge in a way that would damage oneself more than the object of one's anger.

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"Dishonored", "Defamed" and "Disgraced" all mean the same thing. Take your pick.

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Thanks for your suggestion, but I'm looking for idioms "What is it called when you defame someone..."" – Mr. Derpinthoughton Jan 20 at 16:50

Petard https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petard George made a petard of himself by attacking John.

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Um, I think you mean that he hoisted himself with his own petard, not that he made himself a into petard. – cobaltduck Jan 20 at 21:43
"" "hoist with one's own petard", meaning: "to be harmed by one's own plan to harm someone else" "" made a petard of himself not made into a petard. – Sam Jan 20 at 21:53
@Sam The one who is hoist with his own petard is the bomb maker. The petard is merely a bomb. Never the same thing. – David K Jan 21 at 7:23
@cobaltduck and David K: You two can word it however, you two choose to word it. He asked for an idiom, I gave him an idiom “petard” with a link to the full idiom. I used the word in the sentence as he asked. I do not know how to fit the idiom into “George "hoist with one's own petard" himself by attacking John”, so I changed it to make it fit. Yet it still fits all the other requirements he asked for. I do not understand what your twos problems are!!! – Sam Jan 22 at 19:32

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