When I was posting a question about the difference between “Strike a match” and “Strike the match” today, I recalled a made-in-Japan English compound, “Match-pump,” which means a person who instigates others to do something, e.g., to call a strike, or make a fuss, and scurries about to stop or quell the subsequent movement / commotion when the matter gets serious. Pump in this compound means water-pump.

In other words, it means the person who strikes a match to burn something (in a fun more often than not) and tries to extinguish a fire when it flames up.

I wonder if there is the English word that purports the same meaning in a single word.

  • So, this person is an instigator in the beginning, but then becomes a leading proponent of stopping what he started, once things begin to get out of hand? Is that what you're asking for? And does "pump" here refer to "water pump"? Because when I first read the question, I assumed "pump" referred to the instigation part, as in "pump up the volume." – J.R. Aug 31 '12 at 8:43
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    Very roughly, it could be rabble rouser: a person who stirs up the passions or prejudices of the public, usually for his or her own interests; demagogue. – Kris Aug 31 '12 at 8:55
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    I can't think of a single word, but the situation puts me in mind of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. – donothingsuccessfully Aug 31 '12 at 9:10
  • @JR. Yes. Pump means water pump for fire fighting. I added that note to the question. – Yoichi Oishi Aug 31 '12 at 9:15
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    @donothingsuccessfully: Sorcercer's Apprentice is excellent. That should really be an answer; it's a very suitable option for a very tough question. (I could think of plenty of words that suggested instigator, and others that expressed a change-of-heart, but was stumped when I tried to find a word or phrase that captured both of those at once.) – J.R. Aug 31 '12 at 9:27

There's a psychological "condition" named Hero's Syndrome which is apparently relatively common among firemen.

The hero syndrome is a phenomenon affecting people who seek heroism or recognition, usually by creating a desperate situation which they can resolve. This can include unlawful acts, such as arson. The phenomenon has been noted to affect civil servants, such as firefighters, nurses, police officers, and security guards.

'Hero syndrome' ex-firefighter convicted of murder in NY:

A young volunteer firefighter who prosecutors say wanted to be a hero was convicted Friday of murder for setting a fire that killed a mother and three of her children.

Experts Say 'Hero Syndrome' Not Common Among Police:

While there are no known scientific studies on ''hero syndrome'' crimes, experts say that police officers are involved in such crimes less often than firefighters and security guards. They also say that it is rare to find a case in which a bomb exploded, injuring the person who allegedly set it.

  • I don’t think ‘Match-pump’ is the same with ‘Hero’s syndrome,’ but it's pretty close. Match-pump is a person who instigates others to take an action or a problematic motion without considering the consequence of his agitation, but frantically tries to settle down the commotion / problem after causing action, and realizing gravity of his own sensational action. – Yoichi Oishi Sep 1 '12 at 0:31
  • @YoichiOishi I agree. It isn't an exact match (or pump for that matter). – coleopterist Sep 1 '12 at 14:06

You could call someone who instigates a process that spirals out of control a Sorcerer's Apprentice.
In the poem by Goethe the Sorcerer's Apprentice casts a spell that gets out of control and he can't stop it, his attempts to stop it just make it worse.


Agent provocateur:

Traditionally, an agent provocateur [...] is an agent employed by the police or other entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act. More generally, the term may refer to a person or group that seeks to discredit or harm another by provoking them to commit a wrong or rash action.


I happened to look for the answer on the same word "match-pump." So far I found that the word is Japanese made word. I think it's more like "自作自演 (ji-sa-ku-ji-en)" (perform one's own play) or simply "Put-up job" (出来レース、八百長、でっち上げ). What do you think?

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