What would you call someone who does things knowing specifically that his/her actions will cause pain and/or conflict or completes an action just to get someone in trouble or hurt them?

For example, in Private Peaceful there are two people that are in love, but the Colonel goes out of his way to tell the father of the girl that the boy is a thief and would be bad for their reputation.

What is a word that would describe him?

  • 12
    A narcissistic asshole. There's plenty of them unfortunately
    – user163849
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 8:13
  • 1
    Though not a term, the character Loki is a great example of this. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 15:12
  • 3
    While there are a number of good answers laid out already (and a few not yet mentioned), I think the 'right' answer depends on the motivations, or at least the perceived motivations of the person doing so. (i.e. does the person do this habitually, for entertainment, is it personal, etc.); there are enough possibilities that the specifics may influence the color of the best-fit word.
    – abathur
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 16:08
  • If the motivation is pleasure, "mischievous" can fit circumstances that aren't too malevolent. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 16:34
  • 2
    Malicious could describe his actions but I've never heard a person described that way. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 19:54

27 Answers 27


An excellent word is malefactor, which is basically Latin for wrongdoer. And much like a benefactor acts benevolently to others, often anonymously or indirectly, the same is generally true for a malefactor acting malevolently - like in your Colonel's scheming*.

A phrase that frequently comes up in describing these characters is bad actor.

*See also the most famous malefactor of all time, Shakespeare's Iago.

  • 1
    ... and for a cracking good word in any case :-) Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 12:53

Such a person might be described a a trouble-maker.

  • 7
    I feel a trouble maker is more relevant for young kids, not a malicious Colonel with ulterior motives
    – mplungjan
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 8:42
  • 4
    @mplungjan, This definition and the fact there are several movies, songs, etc. with Troublemaker in the title, suggest troublemaker applies to more than just kids.
    – Frank H.
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 11:19
  • 4
    To me "trouble-maker" more implies that someone is rebellious than that his/her goal is necessarily to sow discord. For example, revolutionaries are seen as trouble-makers by those in charge, regardless of their specific goals.
    – ruakh
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 19:31
  • I think troublemaker is applicable to adults. However if you say that someone is a troublemaker (word is a little dated) you are saying it with a tone of trying to be nice or you sound like a pansy (or both). Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 14:27

If you don't mind sounding vulgar, you might call such a person a shit-stirrer:-

someone who makes trouble for other people, especially by making known facts that they would prefer to keep secret:

He didn't need to tell her that - he's just a shit stirrer.


A good adjective is scheming for the person you describe.

given to making plans, especially sly and underhand ones; crafty.

A good noun - instigator (if you want to be polite)


  1. to cause by incitement; foment: to instigate a quarrel.

  2. to urge, provoke, or incite to some action or course: to instigate the people to revolt.

  • 4
    Scheming does not carry the meaning of causing harm to others. You can scheme for personal gain without necessarily hurting anyone or, at least, without that being your objective. Instigate doesn't have the required meaning at all, the OP is asking for a word that describes someone who purposefully causes pain in others. Also, please include the sources for your definitions.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 11:33
  • Where are those citations from? Please tell us the name of where you got those from, and if applicable, also a link. If you are going copy out text verbatim, our Help Center says that you must name where you got the original from, and this post fails to do that. Please see the question on meta entitled “What to do about missing source attributions: Copying, Linking, Attributions, and Plagiarism for discussion on this.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 22:33

You could also just use the simple mean and its variants (like malicious, mentioned above):

a. Selfish in a petty way; unkind.
b. Cruel, spiteful, or malicious.

The noun schadenfreude is close but does not imply that that one causes another's pain:

Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

Unfortunately it has no adjective form but you could be inventive and coin schadenfreudean.

If you want to stick to words that actually exist, go for spiteful:

Filled with, prompted by, or showing spite; malicious.

  • 3
    -1 for 'schadenfreude'. The German word implies pleasure in the misfortune or harm to others, but not in causing said harm. Watching "reality TV" is an example of schadenfreude. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 16:59
  • @MarkLakata fair point, I edited my answer to make it clearer, thanks.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 17:03

Based on french, I'd offer either of

  • provocateur
  • agent provocateur

I'm not sure if their use would be restricted to political or military context, though.

  • 3
    +1 for agent provocateur. It has the added connotation of one who pretends to be on your side, but has forethought ill intentions. This added context may or may not apply to the OP's situation; I'm not familiar with the novel but there are certainly plenty of examples of stories where someone buddies up to one or both involved people to split them apart. It is used most frequently for someone who infiltrates a group, as in stirring up a peaceful protest march to portray all supporters of the cause as violent and unbalanced.
    – Patrick M
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 19:01

Well my wife has called me an agitator. When my two oldest boys are fighting I call them knuckleheads or shit-disturbers.

Really the term shit-disturber is probably the most used.

Usage: (In workplace environment) "Mike really gets everyone going in meetings. He's really a shit-disturber."

Usage: (my 1 year old pestering my 3 year old knowing he can starting crying and 3 year old will get in trouble) "Look at him tackle Max. He is a little shit-disturber."

  • Isn't that a bit crude for the workplace?
    – juanzack
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 12:05

I would say that the word you're looking for is antagoniser, rather than antagonist.

If it doesn't have to be a single word, then I'd agree with trouble-maker, or shit stirrer, although shit stirrer seems to have regional variations, such as shit-disturber from RyeBread. Being from the UK, I've never heard shit-disturber.

  • I didn't know that you used shit stirrer instead of shit-disturber in the UK. I am over in London a few times a year. I will try shit-disturber out and see if I get any wonky looks. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 16:30
  • 1
    I would say antagonistic rather than antagoniser but +1 all the same.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 2:39
  • @terdon A person can be antagonistic, but they are an antagoniser. Having said that, the original question doesn't discount using either - just depends on the specific usage I suppose.
    – StuartQ
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 11:01
  • @RyeBread I'm in the north (Manchester), so it may be different in London. I'm sure everyone would know what you mean though!
    – StuartQ
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 11:02

I like antagonist, but I think a more specific term is sadist, "someone who obtains pleasure from inflicting pain on others."

  • +1 for sadist. This addresses the aspect of having caused the pain in which they are taking pleasure. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 18:54

A few words I would use include:

obstinate: perversely adhering to an opinion, purpose, or course in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion

malicious: having or showing a desire to cause harm to someone

catty: slyly spiteful

(Although I probably wouldn't personally use catty to describe anyone I was portraying as a Colonel.)

source: Merriam-Webster.com

  • 4
    +1 for malicious though I think obstinate does not apply.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 8:31
  • 3
    I agree with malicious and not obstinate
    – mplungjan
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 8:41
  • Point taken... I deliberated on it myself. I do agree that it would not fit the conditions for the initial request. However, I thought that in the context of OP's example, obstinate merits a mention.
    – THEAO
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 8:56
  • 1
    Not really, obstinate is close to pig headed and does not imply spitefulness or any kind of evil intent. I don't see how it is relevant at all.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 9:20

in online communities a troll is someone that acts in such a way as to elicit a response


A narcissistic asshole pardon the expletive

characteristics of a narcissist:

  • They also use projection to dump shame onto others.
  • A narcissist who is feeling deflated may reinflate by diminishing, debasing, or degrading somebody else.
  • A narcissist may secure a sense of superiority in the face of another person's ability by using contempt to minimize the other person.

  • Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of particularly favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider themselves special. Failure to comply is considered an attack on their superiority, and the perpetrator is considered an "awkward" or "difficult" person. Defiance of their will is a narcissistic injury that can trigger narcissistic rage.

  • Can take many forms but always involves the exploitation of others without regard for their feelings or interests.

  • Narcissists do not recognize that they have boundaries and that others are separate and are not extensions of themselves. Others
    either exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all.


If you call someone an asshole, they're probably doing something not just stupid and annoying, but mean.


a stupid, mean, or contemptible person.

I like all the other answers here +1;

yes, mean, spiteful, antagonistic (as opposed to the antagonist within a storyline), sly, treacherous, malicious, catty, are all words I reserve for this type of person. I believe scheming is applicable, as scheming usually has pejorative implications.
I like shit stirrer and trouble-maker, however they need some more adjectives to give emphasis of how puerile, devious, underhanded, destructive, nasty, bitter, and horrible such low-lifes truly are.

Side note

Where I live calling someone a shit stirrer, can be a form of compliment.. don't ask, we Aussies can use insults to express affection.. as an affectionate term; calling someone a shit stirrer, is meaning they've successfully upset someone, who "deserves" it..


Since no one else has brought this up, I'll point out the slightly colloquial drama queen. A drama queen is a person who goes out of their way to cause trouble (drama) simply for the sake of creating a problem. It carries the connotation of someone who finds tranquility boring, and will agitate a situation purely for personal entertainment.

  • Drama queens overreact to situations, they don't hurt people for the fun of it.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 16:04
  • 3
    What am I thinking of then? In my circles "drama queen" always meant someone who creates drama because they thrive on it. Did I just make that up? Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 16:11
  • 1
    Perhaps I have just not heard of this usage. I just can't confirm it in any dictionary either. Maybe it is specific to your friends? Or to your dialect? To me a drama queen is someone who makes a big fuss out of nothing and overreacts to the slightest insult or inconvenience. Not someone who likes to cause pain in others.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 16:13
  • Since there seems to be some question re: the validity of this answer, I'll happily delete it if need be. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 18:24
  • 1
    It cannot be specific to mike's friends. His profile has him in Boston. I am in California, and I share the interpretation that "drama queen" stirs up drama for selfish reasons, many times to the direct detriment of others, or to force a sacrifice out of someone else. Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 18:32

There is also the word villain


I would say he is the antagonist of the story.

  • 1
    How is antagonist ("a person who is opposed to, struggles against, or competes with another") applicable?
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 12:42
  • How does it not fit the description? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antagonist
    – Alexander
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 12:46
  • 2
    Because (in the usage you linked to) it refers to the 'bad guy' from a film or book. In the more general sense, it means opponent or adversary. The OP is asking specifically for a term describing someone who takes pleasure in causing pain and antagonist does not carry that connotation. For example, Darth Vader is the antagonist of the Star Wars films but he is not someone who spends his time trying to cause pain in others. He does so, but only to further his own ends, not out of pure sadism.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 12:51
  • I see. Thank you for explaining the difference. Would a sadist cover it, then?
    – Alexander
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 12:57
  • Sadist is closer, yes.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 13:14

The father could be called a schismatic in the way that the he is creating disunion between the two lovers.

  • nasty
    offensive or even (of persons) malicious; someone who is nasty behaves in an unkind and unpleasant way.

  • vicious
    ferocious, fierce; violent and cruel in a way that hurts someone physically.

  • evil
    wicked, bad; someone who is evil deliberately does very cruel things to harm other people.

  • malignant
    spiteful; harmful; showing great malevolence; disposed to do evil.

  • manipulative
    of or pertaining to manipulation; controlling, influencing.

  • Machiavellian
    the employment of cunning and in statecraft or in general conduct", deriving from the Italian Renaissance diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote Il Principe (The Prince) and other works. The word has a similar use in modern psychology where it describes one of the dark triad personalities.


I've always like sly...It's a gateway adjective to words like "treacherous", "scheming", and "untrustworthy".

  • It also implies intelligence and does not carry the schadenfreude connotations desired by the OP. It's not even necessarily negative, see here.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 12:41

My preference is "belligerent":


  1. hostile and aggressive.
    "a bull-necked, belligerent old man"


  1. a nation or person engaged in war or conflict, as recognized by international law.

Such a person would be divisive. This word shares the same root as the word divide, which methinks, is what you seek.

Another word that would could use is rabble-rouser, which is someone who likes stirring trouble.

  • -1 You can be divisive without deriving pleasure from other's pain. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 17:06

I'd go with prick personally.

It's a little crude, sure. But it quite adequately describes the feelings of a character towards another who acts in the way you referenced.

  • 1
    -1 This is what you call a person that irritates you. It doesn't imply the person wants to cause harm on others. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 17:06

Perhaps meddling, belligerent, antagonistic, agitating, or provoking/provocative?


"Killjoy" was the first word that came to mind. One definition is found at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/killjoy. Think of someone who spoils the pleasure or delight of other people. I'm relating my understanding of North American usage.

Edit: note that I am specifically addressing your literary reference and in reading that reference, I don't see a man who likes to cause conflict -- I see someone who's a killjoy. I'm not familiar with your reference other than what you posted.


In conversation this person may be a devil's advocate. The devil's advocate stirs up controversy and dissention, but it is for the purpose of fully exploring a topic, not to cause long term hard feelings between the conversants.


a "gadfly" might be the appropriate word--an annoying provoker

  • Please add definitions to help the reader understand your choice.
    – user49727
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 6:06

The word that springs to mind is confrontational.


This would be called a shit shoveler

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