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I was wondering if you could help me with a word. I've been racking my brain for a few hours - and nothing.

So, the word I'm looking for means taking initiative, but it has to have a negative connotation. A noun, preferably, as when a person doesn't wait for approval and acts recklessly.

For example,

"You should've discussed this with someone above you because your [word] cost us money/caused problems."

Context: a conversation between a firefighter and a captain, or between a soldier and a lieutenant. The person who's being reprimanded acted on a whim, didn't ask for permission to do so, and basically jumped the gun with the intention of being a hero/lone wolf.

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11 Answers 11

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Perhaps impetuousness fits the bill

the quality or fact of doing things suddenly, without considering the results of your actions:

She has a youthful impetuousness.

It was a moment of reckless impetuousness.

impetuosity

the fact of tending to act or do things quickly and without thinking carefully about the results

or impulsiveness

behaviour in which you do things suddenly without any planning and without considering the effects they may have:

He had rushed into the relationship too quickly, and regretted his impulsiveness.

She had to learn how to curb her impulsiveness.

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    Thanks a lot! In my mind, the word had more emphasis on initiative, on doing it all yourself, rather than recklessness, but impetuousness is a really close fit too, so I might end up using it! So thanks again.
    – nastiensen
    Feb 17, 2023 at 12:57
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I think overstep might work for your example:

the principal overstepped her authority in ordering everyone to remain in the unheated school

One problem I can see is that "overstep one's authority" is more precisely what you're looking for; as a standalone "overstep" may be ambiguous.

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  • I think it works fine alone. I don’t think there’s likely to be any confusion about what kind of boundary was transgressed. Feb 18, 2023 at 14:13
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No single general word. Those already mentioned only work — if at all — in specific contexts. It’s not so difficult to use a phrase in a sentence. I suggest:

By taking the law into your own hands you…

This will work in a wider variety of circumstances.

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  • Thought so too…
    – LPH
    Feb 17, 2023 at 22:22
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Perhaps rashness or recklessness:

Per Cambridge, rashness is

the quality of being careless or unwise, without thought for what might happen or result

And recklessness is

dangerous behavior that shows that you are not thinking about the risks and possible results of your actions (Cambridge)

Imprudence could also be useful, and Dictionary.com says that it's used especially in practical and business contexts:

the quality of being unwise, because you fail to consider the possible results of your actions (Cambridge)

And if you wished to be abstruse, you could use precipitancy

undue hastiness or suddenness (Merriam-Webster)

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Since about 1920, we have had the perfect phrase for this - going rogue. It originally applied to elephants. Lately it is commonly applied to US republican party members who aren't towing the party line. And in between, it has been applied to all manner of, erm, independent minded individuals whose actions are not wholly devoted to the benefit of their handlers.

Merriam Webster has a whole page devoted to the phrase - https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/were-going-rogue

The summary from above reads -

Rogue, by itself, has been used to refer to an elephant that has become violent (either from being separated from their herd, or because they have been injured) since at least 1835. When going rogue was first used it had a fairly specific meaning of ‘behaving in an erratic or dangerous fashion.’

The expression today is more likely to be used to indicate that someone is displaying some degree of independence or failing to follow an expected script. And it need not be applied only to elephants (either real or symbolic ones).

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There is no word that will render the idea that someone is doing something that they are not entitled to do. All that can be done is to use a phrase. One phrase saying that someone has taken an initiative without being in a position allowing them to do that is "usurpation of prerogative".

Cambridge Dictionary) usurpation the act of taking control of something without having the right to, especially of a position of power:

  • You should've discussed this with someone above you because your usurpation of prerogatives costs us money/caused problems.
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If you're brash, then you're rudely assertive.

Being brazen is being bold without shame. Some consider this to be not entirely negative. Similar are rash and reckless, acting without caution.

A vigilante takes action without official sanction.

Words that can fit your example sentence include audacity, presumption, haste, or temerity. (Temerity is overconfidence.)

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How about:

You should’ve discussed this with someone above you because your audacity cost us money/caused problems.

audacity, n.
2. Boldness combined with disregard of consequences; venturesomeness, rashness, recklessness.
3. Open disregard of the restraints of decorum or morality; effrontery, impudence, shamelessness.
Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

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Foolhardy captures both the desire to take initiative to do something brave/audacious/bold, in way that is reckless/impetuous/rash. In other words, foolhardy is the adjective form of "going rogue" or vigilanteism.

Cambridge describes this as:

brave in a silly way, taking unnecessary risks:

taking unnecessary or foolish risks

"Foolhardy" overlaps with bravery, and indeed is often defined in contradistinction with bravery to emphasize the negative aspects and connotations, as in the example cited by Cambridge:

Sailing the Atlantic in such a tiny boat wasn't so much brave as foolhardy.

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Enthusiasm does not have a negative connotation, but in your context it would work well as irony. Saying:

...your enthusiasm cost us money/caused problems.

clearly confers a negative connotation to enthusiasm.

Collins defines it as

Enthusiasm is great eagerness to be involved in a particular activity which you like and enjoy or which you think is important.

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Like nerve or audacity as a good or bad thing, chutzpah is defined by Merriam-Webster as

Supreme self-confidence: NERVE, GALL

It took a lot of chutzpah to stand up to him the way she did.

Like many borrow words in English, this one carries so much juice that it's irreplaceable.

Originally Yiddish, it was likely carried to the States by the Eastern European Jewish migrations before the turn of the century and blossomed with the garment industry in New York City.

Pertaining to the examples, telling tales out of school or insubordination at work typically deserve the reaction "Such chutzpah!"

And yes, speaking truth to power takes the same reaction ... when you approve.

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