The term is very British, and one of Douglas Adams' pet phrases, as in:

Meanwhile, the natural forces on the planet Vogsphere had been working overtime to make up for their earlier blunder. They brought forth scintillating jewelled scuttling crabs, which the Vogons ate, smashing their shells with iron mallets; tall aspiring trees with breathtaking slenderness and colour which the Vogons cut down and burned the crab meat with; elegant gazelle-like creatures with silken coats and dewy eyes which the Vogons would catch and sit on. They were no use as transport because their backs would snap instantly, but the Vogons sat on them anyway [...] out of sheer bloody-mindedness.


Vogons suffered no illusions as to the regard their works were generally held in. Their early attempts at composition had been part of a bludgeoning insistence that they be accepted as a properly evolved and cultured race, but now the only thing that kept them going was sheer bloody-mindedness.

"Out of spite" doesn't quite cut it, does it?

The reason it doesn't cut it (and why neutral words, such as stubborness, obstinacy, etc, etc. don't cut it either) is this:

Bloody-mindedness implies, not merely a person's implacability, but also a touch of casual malice and a whole lot of spite.


4 Answers 4


A colorful alternative is pigheadedness (or pig-headedness), from the adjective pigheaded, defined by Merriam-Webster as "willfully or perversely unyielding". Since Merriam-Webster is an American dictionary and this isn't marked as a UK English usage, it is fine in US English. The association with pigs means it's almost invariably derogatory. The Online Etymology Dictionary suggests it might come from the refusal of a driven pig to go in the direction you want or expect.

Stubbornness is an obvious synonym in US and UK English; Merriam-Webster's first definition of stubborn is "unreasonably or perversely unyielding". But it can also mean someone who is resolute in their refusal without that refusal being unreasonable (as M-W says: "justifiably unyielding") so it doesn't always imply malice or spite, but it is a word most people will know.


Whenever I think of a stubborn American (not, I admit, very often) I think of words such as:


for which Merriam-Webster gives the definition


having an irritable disposition : CANTANKEROUS



for which the same source, Merriam-Webster, gives


unreasonably and inflexibly obstinate


muleheaded (Merriam-Webster)



Merriam-Webster lists orneriness and mulishness as nouns related to the adjectives but not, sadly, muleheadedness, though I don't see why its absence from that dictionary (nor from the other two dictionaries I consulted) should stop anyone using it.

I think any of these words could replace bloody-mindedness.


This is a Britishism that has nothing to do with literal blood.

bloody-minded adj
2. Chiefly British Perversely cantankerous or obstructive.
TFD Online

So perversity or cantankerousness would serve. Look in that direction.

  • perversity wouldn't serve at all, it's often taken to mean something akin to (sexual) deviance. In an expression such as perverse cantakerousness, the adjective might form part of an answer to the question. Feb 11, 2023 at 13:26
  • @HighPerformanceMark One of the definitions of perversity is "persistently holding to what is wrong"; which sounds like just the thing here. Just because one definition of a word doesn't suit you, does that mean none will? In your comment, serve is also a tennis term; perhaps that should be disqualified as well?
    – Robusto
    Feb 11, 2023 at 13:43


is the simplest equivalent, but if you want something that sounds more stereotypically American, you could do worse than


mean-spirited disagreeable contrariness


None of us can have as many virtues as the fountain-pen, or half its cussedness; but we can try.

-Mark Twain

(and yes, contrariness will work just as well)

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