Apparently, a "bicycle rider" is "a current German idiom for someone who kowtows to his superiors and kicks his subordinates". (Source: Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem.)

Any similar expression in English to describe this sort of person?

4 Answers 4


Someone who kisses up and kicks down, is used to refer to the context you describe:

  • I heard the phrase “kissing up and kicking down” first during discussions about John Bolton, a Bush nomination for the US representative to the UN. Its meaning is probably obvious, but in case it isn’t, here’s a very brief explanation. It means being super nice to people with power over one, and taking it out on people over whom one has some power. The power needn’t be much more than a matter of rank or class. Someone who is rude to the cleaning staff, while super nice to higher administrators is following the pattern.

Note this neologism, Bootlickocracy:

One persistent and defining feature of such an environment is dominant use of "kiss up, kick down" principle by middle level managers. We will call such an environment a bootlickocracy.

The prevalence of bootlickocracy in large IT organizations can be viewed as a side effect of dominance of aggressive but incompetent managers who are colloquially called "empty suits". More often they are authoritarians and very often Double High Authoritarians).


Source: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/kissing-up-kicking-down-and-tenure/


Two-faced liar? Slimy bastard?

Suck up http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=suck+up

It describes one half of this without necessarily pointing out the kicking down part.

Still a "sheep" or suck up goes along with the strong say and just passes it along to the "lower ones". Maybe not effectively so.


The most close one seems to be "teachers pet". In this case it would be "bosses pet" if you want to adapt it to some specific person.


If I had to translate this term, I would probably do so literally: cyclist. After all, the pun works in all languages. In German this is indeed a very common idiom, used regularly by practically everyone who has a typical office job and thinks they are not a specimen.

I have often wondered why German didn't seem to have a word for bully, as I often needed one. (The dictionary translation Tyrann doesn't really fit, since a Tyrann is a despot with strong connotations of being a Greek monarch.)

The main difference between Radfahrer and bully seems to be the that the former occurs in an office environment and the latter at school. That a Radfahrer is less physically violent is just a natural consequence.

  • Yes I think cyclist is indeed a very good pun. Unfortunately it is not popularly used in the English language. Perhaps all we need to do is to popularize it.
    – user38936
    Jul 31, 2014 at 8:00
  • The problem is of course that the first time you use it you must explain the pun. Maybe office bully could work instead?
    – user86291
    Jul 31, 2014 at 8:11

Bootlicker synonyms in English don't convey the meaning of being harsh on subordinates, but you could make this up. How about a "toady tyrant", or a "despotic brown-nose"?

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