Imagine we have three individuals: Alice, Bob, and Carol.

Bob asks Alice to write a letter to Carol asking for a favor. Alice wants Carol to refuse to do the favor for Bob, but for it to appear to Bob that she is trying her best to serve Bob's interests. So Alice writes the letter mentioning or saying something cryptic, which Bob won't pick up on, but which will cause Carol to refuse to perform the favor. E.g. perhaps Alice casually mentions something about Bob that seems benign to Bob but will lead Carol to have a strong negative reaction to Bob. Carol then refuses to perform the favor, Alice shows Bob her letter and the response, and Bob is disappointed but thinks Alice tried her best to help him. Alice is smiling.

Is there a specific word or phrase for Alice's actions as described above?

  • 1
    I kept expecting Ted to show up in the hypothetical.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 17:06
  • @SvenYargs Who is Ted?
    – AM55
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 17:16
  • imdb.com/title/tt0064100.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 17:18

5 Answers 5


This is quite a Machiavellian attitude of ALice we've got here!

Consider also manipulative.

manipulate: to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means, ESP. To one's own advantage.

As for her actions, I would describe them as perfidious or insidious.

duplicitous also sounds appropriate in the context.

duplicitous: characterized by deliberate deceptiveness, especially by pretending one set of feelings and acting under the influence of another.


Alice is engaging in subterfuge: attempting to deceive Bob by concealing the true intention of the letter to Carol.


I would say that Alice is trying to sabotage or torpedo Bob's request. In English translations of Stalinist tracts during the 1930s and 1940s dedicated to the ongoing exposure and liquidation of the many hidden enemies of the Soviet Union, these supposed evil doers were commonly termed wreckers, but I haven't seen that term used elsewhere in everyday English discourse.


She appears to cooperate with Bob's request, but...............

She is being deceptive and only going through the motions.


"Plot" would work...i.e., "Alice plotted against Bob when she made cryptic statements in a letter that Bob asked her to write to Carol."

plot; 3rd person present: plots; past tense: plotted; past participle: plotted; gerund or present participle: plotting

secretly make plans to carry out (an illegal or harmful action).
  • Thanks, this is a kind of plot... but is there a more specific phrase for rigging a "communication" for a particular response in a non-apparent manner? Or at least non-apparent to the party requesting the communication?
    – AM55
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 16:50
  • "Sabotage" would be a bit too generic for what I think you're looking for, but that's the best I can think of.
    – Bob Stout
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 16:56
  • I'm thinking something like "poisoned letter", but I can't quite pin it down.
    – AM55
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 16:58

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