I would need a literary synonym of toy, but which would also have the nuance of object of malignant joy. I would like to use it in the context of someone becoming the toy (?) of some evil powers because of lack of strength of character.

I considered plaything and toy, but they are too modern, and besides, they do not have the intrinsic nuance of malignant joy.

I also considered laughingstock and derision which, although literary and even slightly antiquated, are too abstract. I also considered scorn which I like very much, but still lacks the nuance of the man's inability to defend himself. I wish to express that these forces play with such a person, as a cat plays with its prey before devouring it. Is there such a word in English?

He gave himself over to riotous living and became the __________ of demons.

I wouldn't mind an archaic word, but it needs to be still understandable today.

  • 1
    Using derision to mean a person made sport of as a synonym of laughingstock would indeed be literary, but laughingstock itself is neither literary nor dated. Do you mean someone easily tempted and corrupted, or do you instead mean someone easily broken upon the torturer's wheel?
    – tchrist
    Jul 31, 2021 at 16:04
  • 4
    I considered plaything and toy, but they are too modern They are 350 years and 500 years old respective: a1674 T. Traherne Christian Ethicks (1675) 450 Say he delighteth in Armies and Victories, and Triumphs and Coronations. These are great in respect of Play-things. But all these are feeble and pusillanimous to a great Soul. -- a1400 (▸c1303) R. Mannyng Handlyng Synne (Harl.) l. 7891 Whedyr hyt be yn a womman handlyng, Or yn any oþer lusty þyng..Amendeþ ȝow, pur charyte, And makeþ nat a-mys þe toye, Þat þe fende of ȝou haue Ioye
    – Greybeard
    Jul 31, 2021 at 16:05
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    @tchrist I mean that they are at the mercy of these forces, having no strength to defend themselves because they became weak through riotous living. And the forces will use that maliciously to provoke any harm they want.
    – fev
    Jul 31, 2021 at 16:12
  • 1
    @Greybeard It is true, these two words are old, but they do not sound antiquated. They are too common and would not give that archaic tone of language that I need to use.
    – fev
    Jul 31, 2021 at 16:14
  • 6
    You are missing the point of plaything. This is something that is completely vulnerable to whatever designs the "player" has upon it, including those involving "malignant joy."
    – Robusto
    Aug 2, 2021 at 1:17

7 Answers 7


A thrall is a reasonable match. Wiktionary surprisingly lists the archaic/literary count/concrete usage first:


(1) One who is enslaved or under mind control.

(2) (uncountable) The state of being under the control of another person. [He was in thrall to the Dark Lord']

Lexico gives the order of idiomaticity correctly, and adds register caveats:

thrall [noun] 1 literary The state of being in someone's power or having great power over someone.

  • the town was in thrall to a villain

___ 1.1 historical A slave, servant, or captive. ...

  • Later that night, the two flew into the village and laid waste to it, killing some people while making thralls of others.

An example from a fantasy website, JonnyAU on Reddit:

  • Gollum was a thrall of the ring, and thereby a thrall of Sauron.
  • Beautiful word! It fits very well but it would still need the nuance of toying or mockery... I might use it in combination with a word that has this nuance if no other term is found.
    – fev
    Jul 31, 2021 at 11:55
  • 2
    Of Saruman’s voice: “For many the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled; but for those whom it conquered the spell endured when they were far away, and ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them.” Of Morgoth’s menace: “In later days, when Morgoth fled / from wrath and raised once more his head / and Iron Crown, his mighty seat / beneath the smoking mountain’s feet / founded and fortified anew, / then slowly dread and darkness grew: / the Shadow of the North that all / the Folk of Earth would hold in thrall.”
    – tchrist
    Jul 31, 2021 at 16:08
  • I knew there was a more venerable reference. History of Middle-earth Vol. 03 - The Lays of Beleriand? Jul 31, 2021 at 16:46
  • Indeed so. In his tales of the Elder Days Tolkien often used thrall instead of the more modern slave that he used in tales at less remove from us. Here’s another such: “But after three years of thraldom Tuor saw at last a chance of escape. He was come now almost to his full stature, taller and swifter than any of the Easterlings; and being sent with other thralls on an errand of labour into the woods he turned sud­denly on the guards and slew them with an axe, and fled into the hills.”
    – tchrist
    Aug 1, 2021 at 17:05
  • Anyone who venerates Tolkien can't be all bad. Aug 1, 2021 at 19:09

"Plaything" is actually the best match to my mind. It dates from the 1670s, so I hardly think that too modern for the Victorian tone of the sentence. The nuance of malignancy may not be intrinsic to the word, but the fact that it is demons who are doing the playing makes that connotation redundant anyway, in my view.

Another possible alternative to the offerings already suggested here is "pawn". The word does imply being played with, though perhaps more with a strategic goal in mind than for pure malevolent pleasure.

"Thrall": nice, but does not suggest play.

"Puppet": also good, but suggests a total loss of agency.

EDIT: and one more idea came to me last night which I think I like most of all: sport. I'm actually surprised it hasn't been mentioned yet:

He gave himself over to riotous living and became the sport of demons.

In this sentence sport retains its original meaning of pastime or entertainment and is a shortening of "disport", which could also be used for more archaic effect.

  • I totally agree that "plaything" is the closest. But as I have said to others, I would have preferred a more quirky word, less common today maybe... And you must be reading my mind, I was definitely thinking of "pawn", I do not mind the strategic nuance. But somehow "pawn of the demons" doesn't sound fancy to my ears, call me fussy... The nuance of total loss of agency in "puppet" is one I would favour in my word, so I wouldn't count it as a downside. Anyway, very good suggestions, +1!
    – fev
    Aug 3, 2021 at 7:02
  • @fev - just wanted to draw your attention to above edit. It came to me as the perfect word last night, but that may just be me :) Aug 4, 2021 at 0:11
  • I would have never thought of "sport", and it is enlightening to discover its original meaning so thank you.
    – fev
    Aug 4, 2021 at 7:10

In my opinion there is no single word term that expresses the combination of ideas "under the evil power of some entity that derives malignant joy from its use over you".

There is something that comes close in modern English and that is not "unliterary"; I am thinking of the word "punchbag" (British English; "punching bag" in American English). The vicious enjoyment is not explicitly formulated but is nevertheless often a felt direct consequence in any situation where it is used.

(Cambridge Dictionary) punchbag a person or thing who is severely criticized or punished, as a way for other people to express angry feelings
♦ Government workers have often been the punching bag of politicians, comedians, and the news media.
♦ He insists the industry is changing after a decade of being everyone's favourite punching bag.

(Wiktionary) 2. (figuratively) A person serving as an object of abuse.

  • I've just added punching bag/punch bag to my mental list of cross-pond differences :-)
    – DjinTonic
    Jul 31, 2021 at 17:38
  • @DjinTonic Punch is often found not in bags but in bowls at office parties cispondially, but working penny shows with Judy transpondently.
    – tchrist
    Aug 1, 2021 at 15:55
  • 1
    ...said @tchrist, punch-drunkenly after one such party.
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 1, 2021 at 16:21

puppet [M-W]

  1. a: a small-scale figure (as of a person or animal) usually with a cloth body and hollow head that fits over and is moved by the hand


  2. DOLL sense 1

  3. one whose acts are controlled by an outside force or influence

    —a puppet ruler

He gave himself over to riotous living and became the puppet of demons.

Or, less literary, pop-culture proper noun:

He gave himself over to riotous living and became the Good Guy of demons.


Play Pals toy factory


enter image description here

  • 1
    I'm downvoting for proposing a reference on to one specific, decades-old movie.
    – nick012000
    Aug 1, 2021 at 15:22
  • 1
    Upvoted. Puppet combined with thrall seems like a very close description for "object of malignant joy" which is easily distorted towards its masters will. Only minor downside is that literal puppets lack pre-puppet agency so it's a description of what the person has become not including their transition or the source of their demise (riotous / amoral living).
    – AJP
    Aug 2, 2021 at 8:12
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    @AJP I totally like "puppet". No downside for me: Metaphorically, man can become a puppet through riotous living, that is he loses agency, he loses his will. But I agree that it needs to be combined with another word, I want the idea of mockery of the demons a bit stronger.
    – fev
    Aug 2, 2021 at 9:21

pincushion 2. An object of frequent criticism or hurtful treatment Freedictionary (ahdictionary)

It obviously emphasizes the sadistic physicality you mention and more indirectly perhaps "malignant joy" as well.

Newman swallowed hard. So this is the final sendoff in return for a lifetime of service, he thought. No gold watch, no cake, no thank you, just the opportunity to act as a pincushion for whatever horrific fantasy the military scientists have cooked up this year. Live Bomb and the Pink Platoon (2012)

The "horrid game" of Hunt the Pincushion, whose sole object is to torture the smallest, weakest, fattest, most crippled, or other ostracized child... Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Writers (2014) p.320

  • This brings to mind voodoo dolls which seems to be a decent metaphor for what the OP describes.
    – Kai
    Jul 31, 2021 at 19:31

If I correctly understand the nuance you're looking for, then I think "fool" works, in the archaic sense of a court jester.

If you don't mind using an old word in a somewhat new way, then maybe "capuchin", which is the kind of monkey that organ grinders used. (FreeDictionary)

  • I wouldn't use "capuchin", the metaphor would be a bit too elaborate. But I like the idea of "king's fool". He become the demons' fool...
    – fev
    Aug 2, 2021 at 10:38
  • @fev: "Monkey" would be less elaborate than "capuchin". "Dancing monkey" if you really needed to emphasise the specific monkey-role being filled. Though neither has the antiquated air you're seeking. Aug 2, 2021 at 13:10

Whilst perhaps too simple, and not sufficiently malign nor joyful, tool and its various contextual meanings would surely make this a good candidate. When tool isn't being used to describe an instrument, device or method to help with some activity, it is used in a derogatory form.

Wiktionary gives a clear definition and example:


(5) A person or group which is used or controlled, usually unwittingly, by another person or group.

He was a tool, no more than a pawn to her.

Maligning a person by describing them as a tool is relatively common, for example, from the Cambridge Dictionary:

an insulting word for a person who you dislike very much or who behaves very stupidly

As a joyfully vulgar expression, Lexico gives us the anatomical slang definition, and another example:

(3.1) A stupid, irritating, or contemptible man.

  • I agree, it's a good suggestion!
    – fev
    Aug 6, 2021 at 13:20

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