I'm looking for a word to describe using someone's own tactics against them. A formal word is preferable but a colloquialism will work as well.

  • Operationally, what you describe sounds like revenge, pure and simple! In other words, if the "operational definition" of a chocolate cake is its recipe, then the operational definition of "revenge" would be "to use another person's tactics against him" (assuming, of course, his tactics have been used against you or someone dear to you). Depending on what kind of "tactics" we're talking about, such an effort could involve "stooping to the level of your opponent," which is probably not advisable. Taking the moral high ground might therefore require modifying your tactics somewhat! – rhetorician Jun 21 '13 at 14:52

The following phrases might be related to what you are asking about:
fight fire with fire, “To respond to an attack with a similar or identical counter-attack”
tit for tat, “equivalent retribution, an eye for an eye, returning exactly what you get” or “Having the characteristic of returning bad for bad”
hoist on one's own petard, or hoist by one's own petard, “To be hurt, or destroyed by one's own plot or device, of one's own doing which one intended for another; to be "blown up by one's own bomb"”
[Per comments I've removed one item and added the following one.]
taste of one's own medicine, “(idiomatic, usually preceded by a) Harsh treatment inflicted on one who previously inflicted similar or equivalent treatment on others” [eg] “Some stars reportedly even want to investigate the private lives of tabloid editors, to give them a taste of their own medicine” [Time, 2001]

Also consider:
two can play at that game, “something that you say when you intend to harm someone in the same way as they harmed you: When I found out that my husband had been having an affair, I thought "two can play at that game!"” [dictionary.cambridge.org]

turnabout is fair play, “It is fair for one to suffer whatever one has caused others to suffer. So, you don't like being made fun of! Well, turnabout is fair play.” [idioms.thefreedictionary.com]

  • 3
    How about a taste of your own medicine? It is the specific case of having the subject appreciate what it's like to be on the receiving end. – congusbongus Jun 21 '13 at 6:06
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    "Fight fire with fire" is exactly right, and probably the best possible answer to this question. "Tit for tat" is a bit off the mark, having more to do with results, rather than methods. "Hoist on one's own petard" is simply not right; it means that one has caused one's own downfall, and has nothing to do with any interaction between individuals. – John M. Landsberg Jun 21 '13 at 6:07

to beat sb at their own game is to use to your own advantage the methods by which someone else has tried to defeat you.

I.e., to use their own tactics against them.


Kipling, in 'Stalky & Co', wrote ..."Did you ever read a book about Japanese wrestlers? ... These wrestler-chaps have got some sort of trick that lets the other chap do all the work. Then they give a little wriggle, and he upsets himself. It’s called shibbuwichee or tokonoma, or somethin’." While Stalky's grasp of Japanese is not to be relied on, the term shibbuwichee is ooccasionally used in your context, e.g. here.

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