I am fairly certain that there's an idiomatic phrase for this, referring to either the situation or the person. It's on the tip of my tongue.

Scenario: Alice tells Bob to stop making a such a noise with his power tools. Bob replies that he had already stopped an hour ago and was anyway done for the day.

How would you describe Alice, who instructed Bob to do something which he already did or was going to do? In other words, she gave him a redundant order that serves no purpose other than to reaffirm authority and stroke her own ego. Alternatively, she's making a show of strength by demanding that something that's already been done, be done.

It's similar in concept to the French phrase "faire la mouche du coche" but not quite. It's along the lines of gadfly, backseat driver, busybody, or tooting one's own horn.

EDIT: The closest matches so far are control freak and megalomaniac, but those still don't describe the post-facto aspect.

6 Answers 6


Alice is being officious.

Assertive of authority in an annoyingly domineering way, especially with regard to petty or trivial matters.


  • Yes! I think this is the closest I'm going to get. Thank you! Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 13:29

In an attempt to reiterate her authority, or just to show who's the boss, Alice ended up beating a dead horse when she asked Bob to stop making noise with his tools (which he stopped using an hour earlier).


Verb beat a dead horse

(idiomatic) To persist or continue far beyond any purpose, interest or reason.

After having shown us three hours of instructional and safety videos, the inspector was simply beating a dead horse by telling us to buckle up as we got into the van.

Alternative forms: flog a dead horse

  • I would say that's more of a side-effect of what she's doing, but that's really really close. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 13:29

I would use the word nag

ex. "Stop nagging me about this, Alice" or "Alice is being such a nag"

  • Close but not quite. Nagging implies repetition, which is not what I'm looking for. Maybe I used a bad example. It's about the fact that the command was unnecessary because the action was already underway, and yet it was given anyway purely out of pride or saving face. Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 8:09

Well, I can't think of an idiomatic phrase that rolls off the tip of the tongue but I'd still like to float the idea that Alice's behavior indicates that she is a "pettifogger of the first water".

pettifogger: (noun) One given to quibbling over trifles. (Merriam-Webster)

...of the first water (idiom) Used to refer to a person or thing that is unsurpassed of their kind, typically in an undesirable way. 'She was a bore of the first water.' (Oxford Dictionary)

  • You're getting closer, "petty" (in the sense of a petty officer) is a good way to describe it, but still not quite on point about having an urge to micromanage unnecessarily. Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 8:15
  • @Leeward Er...OBSESSIVE pettifogger... Will that improve matters? Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 8:22
  • Better, but still doesn't reflect the futility of issuing a retroactive order for something that already happened. Like a drill sergeant Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 8:31
  • who yells "do it again" when a private finishes a task faster than the other recruits. Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 8:32
  • 1
    @Leeward This fellow could answer your question straight away.
    – Mick
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 12:00

Hectoring, perhaps:

To talk and behave towards someone in a loud and unpleasantly forceful way, especially in order to get them to act or think as you want.

  • That's not it either. It's not forceful, it's just annoying and laughably supercilious. Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 11:54

Someone who takes pleasure in petty and unnecessary (and "redundant" implies unnecessary) displays of authority would colloquially be said to be throwing their weight around, power-tripping, or flexing their muscles.

Other terms and phrases that could describe such a person include imperious, lordly, high-handed, bossy, controlling, domineering, or if the emphasis is on the pettiness, they could be said to be micromanaging, backseat driving, or breathing down your neck. Of these, imperious, lordly, and high-handed are the ones that most imply the person is enjoying the exercise of power for its own sake.

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.