I know that there is a word which specifically describes the following pattern:

When a group will censor, cast bad votes, shout down, keep down or hold back one of its members trying to rise above the group, even though the group gains no benefit from this behavior. In fact, the group could actually be happy that one of its members tries to achieve more, but instead, the attempt is met with disdain.

An example of this would be as follows: A person from a poor and uneducated background tries to get a university education. If he fails, it is next to certain that he will get snide remarks from his old peer group. Things along the lines: "Nice try, Einstein". Even during the attempt, he may find himself abandoned or even poorly treated by old friends, simply for the "crime" of trying to rise above the group.

Now, I once read a fantastic word to describe this phenomenon, but I can't remember what it is. Any help is greatly appreciated.

  • 1
    As Mephistopheles explains to Faustus in Marlowe's play, Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris. Somewhat more accessibly, misery loves company (and by implication hates to see anyone else having a good time, or doing well for themselves). I've always understood that to be at least a factor in the name of the 1990 movie Misery Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 21:45

6 Answers 6


This is often called crab mentality, due to the tendency of crabs in a bucket to pull each other down whenever one tries to escape. The Wikipedia article on crab mentality says it is "best described by the phrase 'If I can't have it, neither can you.'"


It probably isn't the word you heard, but the phenomenon is often refered to as the tall poppy syndrome or cutting down the tall poppies. It is probably an allusion to a legend of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus:

His son, Sextus, pretending to be ill-treated by his father, and covered with the bloody marks of stripes, fled to Gabii. The infatuated inhabitants entrusted him with the command of their troops, and when he had obtained the unlimited confidence of the citizens, he sent a messenger to his father to inquire how he should deliver the city into his hands. The king, who was walking in his garden when the messenger arrived, made no reply, but kept striking off the heads of the tallest poppies with his stick. Sextus took the hint, and put to death, or banished on false charges, all the leading men of Gabii, after which he had no difficulty in compelling the city to submit.
en.wikipedia.org emphasis mine


You could say the group is trying to enforce conformity, which Wikipedia defines as "the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms."

There is apparently a Japanese saying that translates as "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down", and the same article says Australia has a similar proverb about tall poppies.

  • +1 for The squeaky wheel gets the grease, which I interpret the Japanese way.
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 1:40

Dog in the manger is an older expression referring metaphorically to a dog who lies down in the feeding trough for animals. The dog isn't interested in the animals' food, but is willfully preventing them from eating.

In speech, this describes the action of preventing someone from having what they want, even if there is no benefit to the actor.


Mediocrity - is this the word?

  • According to Meriam Webster, Mediocrity is: : the quality of something that is not very good : the quality or state of being mediocre : a person who does not have the special ability to do something well So, this is the condition that creates the phenomenon I was describing, but not the phenomenon itself. But thank you for answering. Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 9:14

While not QUITE what you describe, the word policing is often used for similar behavior, albeit reserved for situations where the intervention is believed to be beneficial to the group, or at least to preserve the group's rules/norms.

It is used here to describe ants literally holding down another ant trying to rise above them (here, an actual physiological change can occur if it is not done).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.