I am thinking, for instance, about how many commentaries have framed the Brexit vote or the Trump victory as a counterintuitive and perhaps self-defeating vote by the working class in an act of sheer frustration against an establishment perceived to be repeatedly failing them. What is this act of sabotage? How does one characterise the action of those Rust Belt voters or Labour voters who threw a Molotov cocktail at the liberal establishment for it to wake up? It is surely a counterintuitive measure of the last resort because they have voted against those very parties that forge them a safety net? Is it putting "a spoke in the wheel" or "a wrench in the works" of the establishment so that it wakes up? Is it tossing the chessboard (?) in the face of defeat? None of these seem right to me. Are there better expressions which, while they gives a sense of deliberate sabotage, should also convey helplessness and frustration more than petulance or malice?

  • 1
    The title doesn't match the question in the body. If someone tosses a chessboard, they are more angry at themselves than at their opponent's victory. The question in the body contains the term "counter-intuitive" which I think many UK and US citizens thought after the election results came in. Could you try to fix this disparity in your question? Otherwise, it's a lovely question, and I'm sure many will be interested in reading users' answers. Thank you.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 24, 2016 at 4:55
  • P.S Some users of this community think the question is too broad, and have voted to close your post. I believe this is motivated by the conflict I mentioned in my earlier comment.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 24, 2016 at 4:57
  • You need to fix the title, users are like children they see shiny things first and forget to look at the content ☺ It's +1 from me anyway because I like the Q
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 24, 2016 at 5:10
  • Oh! But if I say "a spoke in the wheel" in the title, this might be closed as a duplicate. Let me try again. :) Thanks. Dec 24, 2016 at 5:13
  • Can you explain why petulance doesn't work? Isn't petulance just frustration in action? Are you trying to discriminate between acts born of a sense of futility and those born of malicious intent?
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 24, 2016 at 20:40

2 Answers 2


Are there better expressions which, while they gives a sense of deliberate sabotage, should also convey helplessness and frustration more than petulance or malice?

You could say they are acting out. From Merriam Webster:

act out

intransitive verb
: to behave badly or in a socially unacceptable often self-defeating manner especially as a means of venting painful emotions (as fear or frustration)

I think this expression gets at your sense that the potentially self-destructive behavior is motivated by "helplessness and frustration" and also that it is intended, if only unconsciously, as a wake-up call or demand for attention from those who are perceived to be in power.

Other expressions that might suit include:

desperate measures (called for by desperate times; see Wiktionary);

cornered rat syndrome (this one doesn't seem to appear in standard Dictionaries, but there's a fairly good explanation in Tim Halliday's Animal Behavior);

or maybe kamikaze voting (I thought I had made up this phrase, but it has been used several times recently—see, e.g., the Huffington Post, Steemit, or this reddit post; definition of kamikaze from MacMillan Dictionary here).

  • +1 for desperate measures . I was going to answer an act of desperation but I think they're basically equivalent.
    – k1eran
    Dec 24, 2016 at 12:55

How about "take your ball and go home"? It suggests a petulant child, ending a game he is losing.

  • This has been flagged as low-quality, could you add a bit more explanation to improve it? Dec 24, 2016 at 10:57
  • I guess it is my bad as the OP. My question was initially titled to seek idioms for actions similar to tossing the chessboard in defeat. To that extent, @Malvolio 's answer was good. Dec 24, 2016 at 16:35

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