I've been trying to find a single word that describes a person that will go to extreme ends to achieve a goal.

For example, a person that would harm friends or leave behind a path of destruction to get what they want.

This question about a person that always goes the extra mile was the closest I could find, but didn't answer my question because of its more positive tone.

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    I wonder: Is there a distinction between a person who understands that the methods are extreme, vs one who doesn't? – muru Jul 15 '15 at 20:42
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    Are you looking for a word with negative connotations? Otherwise "dedicated" would perhaps work. – Thomas Padron-McCarthy Jul 16 '15 at 6:07
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    With everybody's comments, I can't help thinking that most (if not all) CEOs exhibit some fairly dangerous psychiatric patterns? Considering that they have to do 'what it takes' to make things work, sometimes even in the most desperate situations (hence extreme). Would a CEO be best described as a ruthless sociopath, focused on unmitigated achievement and winning at any cost, a hell-bent, machiavellian-monomaniacal extremist ? – Alex Jul 16 '15 at 15:25
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    "Littlefinger". – Davor Jul 17 '15 at 6:44
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    "go to extreme ends"? Do you not mean extreme means? Extremism can be called radical, but when the ends are aligned with means it's more like principled. – Aki Suihkonen Jul 17 '15 at 8:36

20 Answers 20

up vote 17 down vote accepted

You have pretty accurately described someone with antisocial personality disorder. Popular terms for this are psychopath and sociopath.

Both types of personality have a pervasive pattern of disregard for the safety and rights of others. Deceit and manipulation are central features to both types of personality. And contrary to popular belief, a psychopath or sociopath is not necessarily violent. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/02/12/differences-between-a-psychopath-vs-sociopath/

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    While some other answers are better in general and may be better fitting for others, this answer fit best for the context I needed it in. – D-zap Jul 17 '15 at 7:21

Ruthless

If someone is ruthless to accomplish a goal then that means they will do anything it takes to succeed.

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    definition from Google: having or showing no pity or compassion for others. This fits the example in the OP but doesn't seem to capture the "idea" that he was going for. – C dawg Jul 16 '15 at 20:32
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    @Cdawg "Ruthless" does not carry the same connotation as "cruel". I can't think of a case where someone characterizes a person as ruthless without indicating that they are in pursuit of some goal. I can think of no cases where we would characterize a person as both ruthless and lazy, but plenty where one is both lazy and also cruel or otherwise vile. – zxq9 Jul 18 '15 at 5:56

Hell-bent

adjective
determined to achieve something at all costs.

This carries a negative connotation; usually used with "on (noun)" as in: "He's hell-bent on destruction," also note that it carries a negative connotation for the end goal as well.

  • @wavemode I agree. – vickyace May 5 '16 at 21:42

If you are looking for negative connotations:

Machiavellian

A person who schemes in a Machiavellian way. (ODO)

It would describe someone selfish and unscrupulous in achieving their goals:

A 1992 review described Machiavellian motivation as related to cold selfishness and pure instrumentality, and those high on the trait were assumed to pursue their motives (e.g. sex, achievement, sociality) in duplicitous ways. [...] High Machs admitted to focusing on unmitigated achievement and winning at any cost. (Wikipedia; emphasis mine)

How about fanatic?

Merriam Webster's 3rd International says he is:

a person exhibiting excessive enthusiasm and intense uncritical devotion ... urging his beliefs zealously and with unreasonable and uncompromising insistence

advantages: 1) a noun, a name for a person, as requested; 2) highly negative; 3) prone to actually do bad things ('unreasonable' and 'uncompromising').

  • Are the "end is near" people on street corners not fanatics that don't work towards their claim? – Cees Timmerman Jul 16 '15 at 7:23
  • Much of this is personal habit (or views), but for me, whether I call them fanatics depends on what they are doing. Are they flagellating themselves? Do they walked around naked for 3 years like Isaiah? Yes, fanatics. Otherwise, in most cases, no. Of course we also have 'golfing fanatics', but this is fanatic following the path of 'enthusiast', which had a similar origin and meaning to fanatic, but is now neutral. – rabbit Jul 16 '15 at 7:42

Unscrupulous is an adjective often used to refer to someone who is prepared to to anything in order to get what they want:

  • without scruples or principles;

    • "unscrupulous politicos who would be happy to sell...their country in order to gain power"

The Free Dictionary

A zealot ("person who has very strong feelings about something ... and who wants other people to have those feelings", Merriam-Webster) could have a positive or a negative connotation, so it may not fit your need, given your examples of harm, destruction, and not wanting a positively-toned answer.

Also detracting from my own answer is the very existence of the term "overzealous"; my only (weak) counter-argument would be that overly zealous people are clearly still full of zeal.

I found this expression:

to sell one's own grandmother

I am not a native english speaker though.

  • This isn't a bad answer, but it would usually be said somewhat more lightly than the context the OP presents. It's usually a hyperbole and carries more of a connotation of selfishness or greed and possibly swindling, often hidden behind a mask of cheeriness, rather than behavior that's blatantly destructive to relationships. – jpmc26 Jul 20 '15 at 8:15

I'm surprised nobody mentioned extremist.

It's commonly used for terrorists that act for religious reasons these days, so you may consider using a different word depending on the context and target audience's level of understanding.

  • I thought about it but the reason I didn't is because it's somewhat unspecific. You can be considered an extremist for simply having extreme beliefs, even without trying to accomplish anything, suggesting disagreement is bad. Using it this way somewhat also implies holding a compromised view is necessarily good, which it isn't. – Tonepoet Jul 15 '15 at 21:38
  • Yeah, 'extremist', to my ear, describes someone's beliefs, whereas the kind of person described by the OP may not have any. – dramzy Jul 16 '15 at 14:06

Combining the figurative meanings for steamroller given by Collins

steamroller ...

2 a. an overpowering force or a person with such force that overcomes all opposition

and AHDEL

steamroller n.

...

  1. A ruthless or irresistible force or power.

obviously licenses the term, though I'd say it's more common as a verb in this sense. The verbs 'bulldoze' and 'railroad' are often used also.

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    Juggernaut should be similar, and perhaps stronger. – muru Jul 15 '15 at 20:42

Consider monomania

an extremely strong interest in one thing that influences the whole of someone’s life in a negative way

Macmillan

The concept has received much attention in literature. For example, this passage from Melville's Moby Dick, describing the captain who carried his ship and men to their doom in furtherance of his obsession:

But, as in his narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab's broad madness had been left behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great natural intellect had perished. ... so that far from having lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand-fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear upon any reasonable object.

Wikipedia

  1. Cutthroat
    Wiktionary

n. An unscrupulous, ruthless or unethical person.

adj. Ruthlessly competitive, dog-eat-dog

  1. Blue Falcon
    Wiktionary

(US, military) A bowlderizing or perhaps humorous euphemism for the derogatory term buddy fucker, a supposed comrade whose actions harm his friends, often for his own benefit.

Quote: To them, he's a Blue Falcon, a derogatory euphemism for "buddy-fucker." Blue Falcons are great soldiers when the commander's watching. But they'll screw you in a heartbeat when nobody else is around.

  1. Ambitious
    Wiktionary

adj. Possessing, or controlled by ambition; greatly or inordinately desirous of power, honor, office, superiority, or distinction

Obsessive

Wiktionary meaning 2:

Having one thought or pursuing one activity to the absolute or nearly absolute exclusion of all others.

The most destructive I can think of would be a psychopath.

A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.

Psychopaths tend to lack normal human emotions such as guilt. They are also often highly intelligent and skilled at manipulating others.

Also, psychopaths seem to appear normal. You would probably never guess there was something wrong with them.

Reference: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Psychopath

  • Heh. Popular question, this. – Bookeater Jul 15 '15 at 19:31

The person is desperate.

Of persons: Driven to desperation, reckless or infuriated from despair. Hence, Having the character of one in this condition; extremely reckless or violent, ready to run any risk or go any length. OED

I'd say draconian.

The word generally implies that harm or suffering is coming from the action, or that the solution which has been chosen is overly rough, and could be more gentle. Basically meaning it's overly harsh or proverbially/literall martial.

Alternatives might include crude or heavy-handed.

Sarcastically, a real go-getter

I would go for the word 'opportunist'

https://www.google.com.lb/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&rlz=1C1CHWA_enLB632LB632&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=opportunist

opportunist ɒpəˈtjuːnɪst/Submit noun 1. a person who takes advantage of opportunities as and when they arise, regardless of planning or principle. "most burglaries are committed by casual opportunists"

If the extremes include illegal acts, scofflaw may cover it.

Zealot

A person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their goals. Google

  • Google is not a citable reference. – tchrist Jul 22 '15 at 2:05

protected by tchrist Jul 22 '15 at 2:05

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