I'm trying to communicate the difference between an iconoclast (someone opposed to and intent on destroying established icons) and someone who engages in transgression because it is transgressive. Forbidden fruit, etc.

For the first, destroying the icon is a victory, for the second, a disaster.

Is there a single word for the second person?

  • I'm not sure I understand exactly what you're going for, and it's not one word, but "rebel without a cause" comes to mind. Might be a good place to start a synonym search. Mar 19, 2014 at 18:22
  • "Transgressive," used as a noun, conveys what I'm looking for, but I'm looking for an already existing noun. The kid with his hand in the cookie jar, who, when caught and told he can go ahead and have a cookie, no longer wants it.
    – GetzelR
    Mar 19, 2014 at 18:30
  • 'He commits crime, " just for the hell of it".'
    – WS2
    Mar 19, 2014 at 18:38
  • A hellion, a troublemaker, a troll, a sociopath. Mar 19, 2014 at 23:29
  • Related.
    – tchrist
    Jun 7, 2014 at 20:53

7 Answers 7


Socioclast, a neologism from Urban Dictionary:

Someone who/Something that goes about destroying or trying to destroy (some, not all) social convention, social ideals, or an entire society by way of visciously abrasive commentary or action.

Then there are the more common words:
Sociopath: a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

Insane: utterly senseless; person who is mentally deranged.

Deranged: driven mad or insane.

Mad: irrational.


In his Confessions, St. Augustine describes how, when he was 15 or 16, he (together with some companions) stole pears from a neighbor's tree, not because he was hungry or longed for the pleasure of their taste, but in order to do something bad. The translator gives Augustine's characterization of himself and his companions variously as "scoundrels," "wanton" (used as an adjective here, but reworkable as a noun) and "a depraved soul":

There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night—having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was—a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart—which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error—not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.

It's striking that we have so many nouns that describe ill will of a sort much like what you seem to be talking about, but very few nouns that attach to a person who exhibits such behavior. Merriam-Webster's distinguished between several candidate nouns as follows:

MALICE implies a deep-seated often unexplainable desire to see another suffer. MALEVOLENCE suggests a bitter persistent hatred that is likely to be expressed in malicious conduct. ILL WILL implies a feeling of antipathy of limited duration. SPITE implies petty feelings of envy and resentment that are often expressed in small harassments. MALIGNITY implies deep passion or restlessness.

And yet I'm not aware of a common form of any of these five nouns to describe a person who acts under their influence—maliceur, for example, or spitist, or maligniteer.

The two best terms that I can think of, if transgressor isn't acceptable for some reason, are malfeasor, whose basic meaning amounts to "bad deed doer" (though it often applies to a public official guilty of misconduct or wrongdoing) and miscreant, which emphasizes the mind of the wrongful actor (Merriam-Webster defines the noun miscreant as "infidel," "heretic," or "one who behaves criminally or viciously [out of depravity]"). A less suitable option (in my view) is malefactor ("one who commits an offense against the law" or "one who does ill toward another").



scelerat: Archaic a villain; a criminal


villain: Lit. a wicked or evil person; a scoundrel


scofflaw: a person who flouts rules, conventions, or accepted practices


deviant: one that differs from a norm, especially a person whose behavior and attitude differ from accepted social standards


ghoul: a person morbidly interested in death or disaster


aberrant: one whose behavior departs substantially from the norm of a group


sicko: (Psychiatry) a person who is mentally disturbed or perverted


psychopath: a person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse

  • You have to wonder about the claim that "sicko" is psychiatric jargon...
    – Casey
    Aug 23, 2016 at 0:29

'He commits crime, " just for the hell of it".'


It sounds to me as though you have been reading Foucault. What about "transgressor"?

  • 1
    No, but now I've looked him up. Transgressor with a capital "T" in a specialized context would do, but in a general sense anyone who transgresses is technically a transgressor, regardless of motive.
    – GetzelR
    Mar 19, 2014 at 19:15

A common use of nihilist describes someone who tears things down just to tear them down.

  • Per meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/364 for the use–mention distinction, please use an italic face not a bold one. It makes the page look too heavy otherwise, and furthermore runs counter to typographic convention both on this site and in scholarly works.
    – tchrist
    Jun 8, 2014 at 1:20

Perhaps a thrill-seeking criminal fits. Once it is approved of, no motivation.

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