I am looking for a word to explain the following idea:

To lose any competition to an opponent who succeeds despite having no idea that they have overcome incredible odds against them to succeed.

  • 3
    You looking for a word that describes the winner or the loser? More context would help. Can you please provide an example sentence?
    – BiscuitBoy
    Jan 11, 2016 at 6:22
  • 1
    Yes @beldaz - I edited it to bring in clarity. Thanks!
    – BiscuitBoy
    Jan 11, 2016 at 9:07
  • 1
    In that case @BiscuitBoy, Thanks for your unambiguous edit ;-)
    – beldaz
    Jan 11, 2016 at 9:12
  • 4
    Veteran XX was humiliated (suffered humiliating defeat) by newcomer YY in last night's match. Jan 11, 2016 at 11:49
  • 2
    The most common words a loser uses to describe such an unfortunate circumstance: "Beginner's luck!" Jan 11, 2016 at 11:56

15 Answers 15


Not quite what is asked for, but my first thought.

Aboyne (vb.)

To beat an expert at a game of skill by playing so appallingly that none of his clever tactics or strategies are of any use to him.


from The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams

  • This was my first thought too :)
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 11, 2016 at 11:44
  • I'd upvote twice if I could for the Meaning of Liff reference, nicely done!
    – BruceWayne
    Jan 11, 2016 at 18:08
  • You beat me to it!
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 12, 2016 at 2:34
  • I haven't heard of this term before! A google search fetches results of a village in Scotland! How's it pronounced? Any etymology for this word? Can you update this answer with these details, please?
    – BiscuitBoy
    Jan 12, 2016 at 5:09
  • 3
    it is a village in Scotland, the book Meaning of Liff is a mock dictionary. giving amusing descriptions for the names of geographic locations.
    – Jasen
    Jan 12, 2016 at 7:51

The game itself or the act of losing can be called an upset.

Merriam Webster defines it as:

an occurrence in which a game, contest, etc., is won by a person or team that was expected to lose

Cambridge Dictionaries defines it similarly:

an ​occasion when someone ​beats the ​team or ​player that was ​expected to ​win

  • 2
    This is a word I've actually heard before.
    – Ypnypn
    Jan 11, 2016 at 16:28
  • This is commonly used in UK.
    – Simba
    Jan 12, 2016 at 11:12

Well to succeed despite idiocy is called pulling a Homer.

enter image description here

To lose to someone pulling a Homer might be called pulling a Frank Grimes.

I'm saying you're what's wrong with America, Simpson. You coast through life, you do as little as possible, and you leech off of decent, hardworking people like me. Heh, if you lived in any other country in the world, you'd have starved to death long ago. You're a fraud, a total fraud.

―Frank Grimes


  • 4
    A good candidate, but I don't think it's achieved as wide cultural cachet as "cromulent" or "embiggen" :)
    – recognizer
    Jan 11, 2016 at 17:19
  • I had always thought "to pull a homer" was to pull off a baseball homerun.. something I had considered an "unlikely but huge success".. now I feel silly. Jan 11, 2016 at 23:00
  • Though it is perfectly cromulent to upvote anything to do with the Simpsons, despite the popular culture reference I would hate to think that this answer is the best option that the rich English language has to offer.
    – dotancohen
    Jan 12, 2016 at 13:06

This could be considered beginner's luck.

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:

unexpected ​success ​experienced by a ​person who is just ​starting a ​particular ​activity

  • Would it be with an apostrophe, "beginner's luck"?
    – ErikE
    Jan 12, 2016 at 1:45

David and Goliath

used for describing a situation in which a small person or organization defeats a much larger one in a surprising way

Macmillan Dictionary

From the biblical story in which Goliath, a giant, is killed by the boy David with a stone.


You can find more information about this term on this very website - What do you mean by the phrase David vs. Goliath?

  • 7
    not a good example!! David was small, but was neither inexperienced nor naive! He was very experienced and had a good plan. He was more of a hero than lucky naive don't-know-how winner.
    – Tomas
    Jan 11, 2016 at 11:38
  • And the OP never said anything about inexperience or naivety
    – Charon
    Jan 11, 2016 at 12:43
  • 1
    Goliath never had a chance. David killed him with superior technology. Jan 11, 2016 at 18:46
  • Goliath had about the same odds of winning that fight as the guy who pulled a sword on Indiana Jones, and for the same basic reason. The only surprising thing about the battle was that he never seemed to realize just how screwed he was until it was too late. Jan 11, 2016 at 20:13
  • 1
    I have no interest in the biblical story. This is not a theology forum. I am talking about the popular phrase which originated from it - its definition is written above. Please note that the OP made no request about inexperience. Please understand that I was making no theological commentary.
    – Charon
    Jan 12, 2016 at 8:42

In Australia, this is sometimes called "doing a Bradbury", and while this might not be exactly what you were looking for, the story is too good not to be shared!

In Australian English ‘to do a Bradbury’ is to become the unlikely winner of a contest or to accidentally achieve success, (...)

So what did the original Bradbury do to achieve his place in the Australian lexicon?

In an unlikely series of events, short-track speed skater Steven Bradbury became the first Australian to win a gold medal at a Winter Olympics. (...)

The whole story on ozwords.com (The video is worth watching!)


Well, if you are looking for an unorthodox or an informal phrase or a word, you could use "to pull a homer". (Previously suggested by CandiedOrange) For Ex: Donald Trump becoming a president can serve as a prime example of someone pulling a homer.

And if you want something more formal(something that's taken from an animated sitcom), i believe "Fluke" comes close to the word you are looking for.

  • 6
    Well, this has been already suggested by CandiedOrange
    – BiscuitBoy
    Jan 11, 2016 at 6:36
  • 6
    They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Jan 11, 2016 at 7:15

To Blow it -

He champion blew it against a total novice.



Despite the word's original usage pointing toward behaving dishonestly, I've seen the word 'cheated' used to describe a loss in the manner the OP has mentioned.

"He was cheated out of winning the title by a rookie."

  • 1
    This may be a common usage, but it has a lot of unwelcome associations. For instance, making this statement suggests that the speaker believes that a longtime veteran of a competition "deserves" to win, regardless of whether their skill or performance is superior. That's not even getting into the somewhat inevitable implication that the rookie in question actually cheated...
    – recognizer
    Jan 11, 2016 at 17:21

In my native dialect, we would say he "fluked it". I don't know whether that's in use outside of the Canadian Prairies.


How about flub? In its sense of "to fail utterly at something you should have succeeded easily."

Possibly also choke, although that doesn't quite capture the competition itself, just the act of playing far below usual skill level.


A few ideas:

Abased (pp)

Reduced to a low state, humbled, degraded. *

Upset (vi)

To overturn; to overthrow; to overset; as a carriage.

(Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1828))

Botch (n)


  1. Work done in a bungling manner; a clumsy performance; a piece of work, or a place in work, marred in the doing, or not properly finished; a bungle.

Bungle (n)

A clumsy or awkward performance; a botch; a gross blunder.

Blunder (vi)

  1. To make a gross error or mistake; as, to blunder in writing or preparing a medical prescription. Swift.
  2. To move in an awkward, clumsy manner; to flounder and stumble.

(Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913))

Some related ideas:

Flub, fail, falter, fluke, choke, drubbed, humiliated, embarrassed, disappointed, stumble


To snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Wiktionary.org defines it as

(idiomatic) To suddenly lose a contest one seemed very likely to win, especially through mistakes or bad judgment.



To fail to perform effectively because of nervous agitation or tension, especially in an athletic contest

This is from the perspective of the person who loses (which seems correct by your question), but is somewhat specific and doesn't address that there is an opponent with less skill (or an opponent at all). Notwithstanding that, to me it gets at the gist of losing against someone inferior despite superior skill.


at my old fencing club we used to call the tendency for beginners to do unreasonably well against seasoned fencers "muppet factor"

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