Is there a single word to describe an object or idea that is so desirable that everyone wants to attain it but once they have it they are immediately cursed?

The idea is often used in literature—some examples:

  • In Lord of the Rings, the 'one ring' is a perfect example of this.
  • In Guy de Maupassant's story The Necklace, the necklace might be considered to be this.
  • There are many stories of people making deals with the devil (see question: What does "Faustian bargain" mean?), or being granted three wishes by a Djinn or fairy, which inevitably turn out bad.
  • In the Twilight Zone episode Time Enough at Last, Bemis's desire to be left alone with his books would be an example of this word.

'Bane' covers the cursed part, but no one desires it. Is there a single word to describe a most highly desired treasure that (knowingly or unknowingly) comes with a curse?

  • 1
    Good question, I must say. Reverse dictionaries are not very helpful, returning desideratum, king's ransom, Fafnir, modern orthodox Judaism, and Mel Fisher.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 17:06
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    @RegDwight: ha! :-) ‘Fafnir’ points out another classic example, though: the cursed Rhine-gold, in the Nibelungenlied, Wagner’s Ring, etc.
    – PLL
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 18:28
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    It's kind of reminiscent of the "monkey's paw".
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 22:08
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    The one you used cursed treasure
    – mplungjan
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 6:38
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    @mplungjan: Except cursed treasure is a phrase, not a word :)
    – Jimi Oke
    Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 3:30

13 Answers 13


I can find plenty of other examples for such objects but most of them revolve around a character's inability to resist the object more than the object's desirability. The best example I found was the lure of immortality.

As far as terms go, the best I could do was honeypot and bug zapper. The latter is a perfect description of such an object but isn't very cool sounding and only really applies to things attracted to light. A more romantic twist brings us to limerence which is defined as:

An involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction for another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one's feelings reciprocated.

I find the idea of focusing such an attraction on an object instead of a romantic partner useful and would be happy with a word such as "limerent" for the appropriate noun. Unfortunately, the desired reciprocation implied by limerence is completely irrelevant in this context so it -- although interesting -- is unable to satisfy the need.

Other words that seem intwined with this concept are paradox and fated. Paradox because of the crazy, irrational pull of the object even after the curse is discovered. (This is one of the problems with honeypot: The curse is hidden.) Fated is apt due to the irresistibility of the object along with its implied horrid ending.

Two-word terms seem to be a little easier to find as you can simply prepend cursed, malevolent or insatiable to words such as lure or attractor. (Or honeypot.)

In other words, this is a most excellent question.


I remembered the word gambit which is defined as

An opening in chess, in which a minor piece (often a pawn) is sacrificed to gain an advantage.

The term's usage extends to include nearly any strategy that sacrifices something to gain something else and is generally considered extremely high risk with unpredictable outcomes. This usage note is helpful:

Critics familiar with the nature of chess gambits have sometimes maintained that the word should not be used in an extended sense except to refer to maneuvers that involve a tactical sacrifice or loss for some advantage.

The note continues by reminding us that "gambit" is fully excepted as general ploy or maneuver. But the sacrificial aspect is what makes it useful in this context.

The word is, again, not a perfect match but it completely conveys the dual attraction and potential danger. It also has the advantage that people will know exactly what you are referring to if you say, "Eve's gambit" or "the immortality gambit." You can stretch the term to refer to nearly every obvious example:

  • Eve's gambit
  • the immortality gambit
  • the Midas gambit
  • the djinn or genie gambit
  • 2
    +1 for the only (serious) single-word answers. Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 21:57
  • @Calli: Thanks. I was severely disappointed that limerence was so close but so far away. At least I learned a great new word.
    – MrHen
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 22:29
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    I love the new word 'limerence' and have selected this answer because of that. In addition, because 'limerence' was only coined in 1977, I propose a new noun 'limerant' (with an 'a') to describe an object that does not reciprocate the desire or affection given to it.
    – oosterwal
    Commented Mar 31, 2011 at 14:41
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    (+1) Honeypot seems like the best answer, though I think there probably isn't a single answer to cover the whole point. Well done for a well researched response, @MrHen.
    – Karl
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 5:48

The idiom "double-edged sword" is close. It misses the "so desirable that everyone wants to attain it" meaning, but it does convey that it has a positive use.

Edit: Another good term might be "forbidden fruit." In Genesis, it was said to convey great power to its consumer, but it also added a curse to the partakers.

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    Always reminds me of Homer Simpson, "mmmm, forbidden doughnut." Forbidden fruit fits very well for certain kinds of curses. Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 6:52
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    Double-edged sword isn't really it, but "forbidden fruit" is very good. Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 23:48
  • Forbidden fruit is definitely a good suggestion. (+1) However, I do not think the forbidden fruit in Genesis was considered as treasure by Adam and Eve. They just wanted it so badly. If that makes it treasure, then this is a good metaphor.
    – Jimi Oke
    Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 3:32
  • The answer is the Forbidden Fruit. Its an object of desire but you are forbidden from getting it.
    – Neeth
    Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 9:37
  • In the stories, Adam and Eve are talked or prodded into eating the fruit, which they had managed to resist perfectly well until then. Also, the fruit itself was not their desired treasure; they wanted what eating it bestowed (knowledge of good and evil). In its modern meaning, the thing that is supposed to make forbidden fruit desirable is the fact that it is forbidden. The things here that are desired and bring curses are knowledge and disobedience. I actually think these two are good, if more abstract, answers.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 9:12

Further “close-but-no-cigar” ideas:

Golden apple: differs in that the curse comes usually not from possession of it, but from competition to attain it.

Poisoned chalice: another apparently desirable thing that turns out to be cursed; but differs in that this is usually given, rather than sought out for an extended time.

  • 1
    Poison apple, perhaps. From Snow White.
    – Jelila
    Commented Mar 23 at 15:16

A Monkey's Paw, perhaps?

  • The only problem with that is that only a select few are drawn to a Monkey Paw.
    – oosterwal
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 19:15
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    Really? Don't we all want something that will grant us three wishes? (At least until we find out about that darn curse.) Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 19:53

TVtropes calls it an Artifact Of Doom, but I don't think the term would be understood by anyone not familiar with the site. Also related: Artifact Of Attraction, but that one is a MacGuffin.

  • 1
    'Artifact of Doom' is close, but it does not require the thing to be highly desired, or a lure, like the Siren's song. Also, Artifact of Doom requires the thing to be physical--the word I'm looking for could also be applied to an idea, a secret knowledge, or philosophy.
    – oosterwal
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 16:06
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    @Oosterwal - you should post "Siren Song" as the answer. Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 16:15
  • @Chris B. Behrens: Maybe, but a 'Siren Song' is more like bait in a trap rather than a treasure that consumes a person (consuming their every waking thought, then consuming them physically.)
    – oosterwal
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 16:25
  • Well, you're absolutely right in the sense that it's not a physical object, but it was a treasure in the sense that Odysseus experienced gain from hearing it (we presume). I don't think that there's a perfect answer, at least, not in Western mythology. Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 16:27
  • In that case, every trap is a treasure for the animal that finds it.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 16:31

Something related to the legend of King Midas perhaps? (Sorry, can't think of a specific term)

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    Yes, the curse associated with the Midas touch is another great example.
    – oosterwal
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 15:58
  • I think "Midas's golden touch" sums it up quite well.
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 3:05

After looking at all the answers that have been given so far, I think the answer to your question is "no".

You could call it an "idol's eye," since there are multiple stories about cursed gemstones that have been stolen from an idol's eye (Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, and looking at this webpage, it seems that this story is also told about the Hope Diamond, the Idol's Eye Diamond, the Orlov Diamond, and the Koh-i-Noor Diamond -- although in Indian legends, the Koh-i-Noor was stolen from the god Krishna).


'forbidden fruit'

is definitely as close as it gets, but it's not a single word plus there are cultural connotations attached to it too (although one would normally expect any English speaker to be aware of them)

  • NB: This came up on the LQ queue: all I did was to add some formatting. Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 21:00
  • This is a duplicate of a previous answer, sort of.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 3:07

You might try "a genie in a bottle" on for size. It carries the sense of "be careful what you wish for", which is common to all these cases.


Perhaps what you want is a Helen of Troy (who doesn't?), as in

1) I suppose he'll go after that girl. It's too bad, though. She's a Helen-of-Troy.

It might be unusual and a bit of a stretch to use this for nonfeminine things, and indeed google did not turn up any decent results for this kind of usage. But I have to suggest it because (i) I think it fits the meaning beautifully, and (ii) I could argue that it is a single word in the sense that it is a name and cannot be modified as a phrase can.


Unintended Consequences can be helpful.


Black Pearl
Forbidden Fruit / Golden Apple


Fool's Gold

Fool's gold, technically pyrite, is a gold coloured crystalline substance.

As an expression, though, 'fools gold' is something that somebody has run after to attain, because they thought it had value, only to find that it wasn't valuable after all, and indeed was 'more trouble than it was worth' - meaning they have wasted their efforts or suffered some detriment because of seeking it or attaining it.

'Something that seems more promising than it really is' https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/fool's+gold

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