"lex talionis": (Latin for "law of retaliation") sometimes referred to as the "eye for an eye " principle, a retaliatory action taken with a degree equal to the original offence. Is there a word (in no particular language) that is similar to lex talionis but the retaliatory action that is taken is of a much higher degree (much more violent for example) than the original offence?

  • Are you just looking for escalation, or do you want a more specific term that only refers to retaliation in a legal context? A feedback loop is a related concept. – jejorda2 Sep 25 '18 at 14:49
  • Perhaps the word you want is simply "law." A life for an eye, a life for a tooth, a life for a limb: such was justice in many societies, and often remains so in practical terms. Against such prospects, an eye for an eye is merciful. – choster Sep 25 '18 at 14:55
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    Stabbing someone’s eye out or pulling their teeth out of their mouth isn’t violent or extreme enough for you? I suppose the result of ever-escalating leges talionis would be a vendetta, which by definition is very violent; is that the kind of thing you’re looking for? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 25 '18 at 14:57
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    Two eyes for one eye? – Zebrafish Sep 25 '18 at 14:57
  • The entire thrust of the eye for an eye article on Wikipedia is that civilisations (civilisation being a prerequisite for law) restrict retaliatory violence to reciprocity. Hard to prove a negative but there probably isn't a term for this, as it may be antithetical to the very idea of law. That's not to say it didn't happen, though... there was collective responsibility with horribly disproportionate punishment in Legalist China, but no proper rule of law; prescribed disproportionate punishment probably means arbitrary rule in practice. – tmgr Sep 25 '18 at 15:04

As a single word describing an "unrelenting" variety of "Law of retaliation", you could use the single word "Lawlessness". In fact, you could add the suffix -ness to several words below to add the "excessiveness" component to a retaliation. I also can't really imagine what a "Law of excess-retaliation" would be in Latin or any other language.

Although "Lex Talionis" does sound harsh, it is still based on "legal or acceptable" behavior concepts. They are described in your examples as actions of "Justice". In the case of "Lex Talionis", "actions of equal nature" results in a "just" expression of reciprocity or punishment rendered. It would seem that opposing concepts, like "excessive retaliation", could only be described using adjectives like "Unjust", "Lawless", "Ruthless", or "Merciless" as they would apply to any reciprocal action or punishment.






The US military use the term punitive measures.

The introduction gives an illustration of when they used of this measure in the past.




(in warfare) retaliation against an enemy, for injuries received, by the infliction of equal or greater injuries.


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    "reprisal" is too broad a word/expression for what I'm looking for. I'm looking for something expressing a disproportionate (overly) response. For example you're sitting at home watching TV, suddenly some thugs smash their way into the house and bash you and your wife and steal various items. You end up finding out who did this. You track them down and kill them all. This would be considered a disproportionate reaction. I was wondering if there is a term for such an overreaction? My friend just suggested "justice", but he has a different grasp of disproportionate than I do. – Peter Sep 25 '18 at 15:44
  • Vengeance would be another word for this, but, hey, I turn the other cheek. – Ricky Sep 25 '18 at 16:19

disproportionate retribution
excessive retribution
surpassing retribution
intensified retribution
escalated retribution
two eyes for one/an eye

Many sources explain the phrase "eye for an eye" might better be read as "only one eye for one eye". Wikipedia's article begins with this variation.

Under Babylonian and Hebrew Law, the “eye for an eye” law was intended to restrict compensation to the value of the loss; thus, it might be better read “only one eye for one eye”. Catholic Herald

An accurate reading of the biblical phrase "an eye for an eye" in Exodus and Leviticus is said to be: 'only one eye for one eye'
Wikipedia article

I believe the meaning of "two eyes for an eye" is easily understandable. Interestingly, it's also part of the lyrics in a Megadeth song:

Vengeance breeding greater vengeance, two eyes for one eye

Further, the phrase "two eyes for an eye" is much more popular (about 50,000 hits on Google search, and gives results such as these:

"Two Eyes for an Eye: The Neuroscience of Force Escalation"

Two eyes for an eye:
The role of retribution in Israel’s military thinking
Article from The Economist

I don't believe in an eye for an eye, I believe in two eyes for an eye.
Quote from Bas Rutten, famous professional fighter, link to video here

Also note that as explained in the Wikipedia article given below and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "retribution", contrasted with revenge or vengeance, is less loaded with connotations of personal emotions and desire to get back at someone, and has more to do with justice generally.

The idea of an "eye for an eye", or lex talionis, falls under the theory of justice called retributive justice. A word that pops up often in this subject is "proportionality". Often we see proportionality:

then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Exodus 20: 23-25 KJV

Sometimes we don't. The following is from the exact same chapter:

16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.
17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.
Exodus 20: 16-17 NIV

The reason I'm making a point about "proportionality" is that if you don't find your term and need to make one up, you'll most likely want to focus on this aspect.

Proportionality requires that the level of punishment be related to the severity of the offending behaviour. An accurate reading of the biblical phrase "an eye for an eye" in Exodus and Leviticus is said to be: 'only one eye for one eye'
Retributive justice at Wikipedia

(3) that it is morally impermissible intentionally to punish the innocent or to inflict disproportionately large punishments on wrongdoers.
Retributive justice at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Personally I'd be surprised if there weren't a term, or at least a military doctrine or policy practised by a nation. I say this because in wartime you see this all the time, retaliatory strikes hardly ever are carried out on a measure for measure basis, they always tend to escalate.

  • Two eyes for an eye would work so much better if only English had a dual number to draw on, similar to a language like Sanskrit where नेत्रे नेत्राय netre netrāya works very elegantly (not sure if the dative is the proper case to use for this, but it’ll do for illustrative purposes). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 26 '18 at 9:50

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