33

I’m looking for a word to refer to the act of trying to embarrass someone to the point that they do something they don’t want to do.

Example: Let’s say all of your friends are jumping off of a cliff into a lake, but you don’t want to, for whatever reason. One friend remains at the top with you, trying to convince you to jump. One tactic they use is to try and embarrass you enough or anger you into doing it by saying something along the lines of - “So, basically, you’re too chicken to jump, right?”

I believe I could use the phrase ‘egg on’ for this, but would rather have a singular, more specific word for it. I’m pretty sure there is one, but I just can’t bring it to mind. I’ve considered ‘reverse psychology’, too, but it just doesn’t fit what I’m trying to say.

12 Answers 12

132

In addition to Marcellothearcane's excellent answer I suggest goad.

From Lexico:

Goad
VERB

  1. Provoke or annoy (someone) so as to stimulate some action or reaction.
    ‘He was trying to goad her into a fight.’

The word derives from a spiked stick used to push cattle along. This definitely provides that same subtext that you're seeking to add.

  • 3
    I was going to say "prod", but "goad" is much better, yes. – Jeff Y Sep 24 at 17:55
58

The word that springs to mind is provoke:

  • stimulate or give rise to (a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one) in someone.
  • deliberately make (someone) annoyed or angry.

Lexico

It is used to signify a successful provocation (when someone responds), and also the act of provoking, which may or may not yield results:

  • ‘Sometimes applicants are deliberately provoked to see how they handle themselves.’
  • ‘Rachel refused to be provoked’

Synonyms include incense, enrage, irritate, infuriate, exasperate, exacerbate, madden, pique, nettle.

  • 4
    ‘Provoke’ is a good suggestion, as well. I’ve chosen to use ‘goad’, though, as it fits perfectly in my context. Adding your list of synonyms to the brain pan for later use, since ‘to goad’ is a type of provocation. – P. M. B. Sep 23 at 19:30
  • Great answers. Less fancy: push, pressure (touching on peer pressure), maybe even bully. Reminds me of third grade and Back to the Future. – Tom Hundt Sep 24 at 18:04
  • 1
    Antagonize came to mind immediately, but your provoke I think is more on point... – cale_b Sep 24 at 21:18
34

Another option would be to 'needle' someone into doing something:

  • incite to action by repeated gibes e.g. "needled the boy into a fight"

[https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/needle]

21

I think "incite" can also work in your context -

Incite

: to encourage someone to do something violent, illegal, or unpleasant, especially by making them angry (or excited).

Example sentences -

  1. The rock band's failure to show up incited a riot, as the crowd had waited for hours.

  2. He incited the workforce to go on strike.

(Source)

  • Incite is good if your target is a crowd (as in your examples), goad would be better for individuals. – Bill K Sep 24 at 18:02
17

How about bait?

  1. b. entice, lure
  • Frankly I think that definitions 1 and 2 are a better match. The vitum of a bear baiting was often in a cage and had to be angered enough that they would emerge and expose their flanks. – dmckee Sep 24 at 0:15
  • This is the first word I thought of reading the question. In this sense it's not related to the antiquated practice of "bear baiting" and more related to the practice of fishing, as in "fishing for a compliment". Your "friend" on the cliff is "fishing for your jump", they keep dangling various things in front of you hoping one of them will get you to "bite" and "take the bait" and jump. – geneSummons Sep 24 at 21:48
  • I immediately thought of bait in this way but none of the definitions matched my expectation. Thank you both for clarifying it, I will try to update this post soon. – Lincoln Sep 25 at 1:35
12

There are some good options here, but the first word that came to mind was taunt:

: to reproach or challenge in a mocking or insulting manner

M-W

10

The word that (very) closely suits your context is -

Pique

: to excite or arouse especially by a provocation, challenge, or rebuff sly remarks to pique their curiosity

: to arouse anger or resentment in: IRRITATE

(Meriam Webster)

Example sentences (credit) -

  1. The cowardly duke was piqued into joining the king's expeditionary forces.

  2. Although he wasn't planning on attending prom, James was piqued into it by his friends.

  3. We piqued Jessie into joining the protest.

9

Since you seem mostly focused on being 'embarrassed' into action, you could say 'shame (into)'.

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/shame-into

to make someone feel so guilty or embarrassed that they do what you want

Examples:

  • The cowardly duke was shamed into joining the king's expeditionary forces.
  • Although he wasn't planning on attending prom, James was shamed into it by his friends.
  • We shamed Jessie into joining the protest.
5

For the moment I can think of instigate.

: to goad or urge forward : PROVOKE

Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary

to cause an event or situation to happen by making a set of actions or a formal process begin:

Cambridge online

  • 2
    I don't think instigate fits at all. "Instigate" means to begin something yourself, whereas the question is looking for a word for convincing somebody else to do something, such as might fit in the sentence "I [verb]ed him to do it" (where "instigate" definitely doesn't fit). – David Richerby Sep 23 at 17:40
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    'Instigate' is a transitive verb. You can instigate another person to do something (usually bad). SOED provides an example: <You must not instigate your elders to a breach of faith> – highvit Sep 23 at 18:29
2

I suggest the verb "to bully" could be appropriate in this case. Lexico Bully

As in "The people he thought were his friends bullied him into jumping to his death."

The Lexico link also offers the word "coerce". Which is a milder form.

1

How about importune?

Merriam Webster

1a : to press or urge with troublesome persistence
b archaic : to request or beg for urgently

1

Depending on the specifics, you might simply use "pressure". Peer pressure is generally a form of shaming; if you don't do it, you're not "cool". (Or in this instance, if you don't do it, you're chicken.)

"Shame (into)" is another good one, though a somewhat different meaning. Shaming is more a sense that if you don't do the thing, it's a moral failure. It would depend on your exact context.

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