In Swedish, the word for patricide (fadermord) is commonly used in a metaphorical sense for the act of the disciple, usually publicly, turning on their teacher or benefactor (which may be a person or an institution).

I have consulted several English dictionaries online, but none of them list an English equivalent of this metaphorical use of patricide, only the literal and judicial meaning of the word.

My question is therefore, if patricide is not generally used in this metaphorical sense in English, is there another word which conveys this specific nuance of treachery?

The Swedish usage usually implies a break with former convictions (passed down from one’s teacher or otherwise). It is not, therefore, a treachery for personal gain, but more often due to a change of convictions or beliefs.

In Swedish, it is also a fairly neutral term – fadermord in this sense is not morally despicable, though it may be tactless; it may even carry a note of enviable moral integrity.

Accepted answer: There are, of course, several ways in which this expression can be rendered in English. Among the answers below, "renegade" or "apostate" seem to be the closest single words, with "judas" a close third. By using an idiom, "the worm has turned to bite the hand that feeds it," though a bit quirky, can come quite close.

Since the word in Swedish has context dependent moral implications, which is not the case for the closest English equivalents, the appropriate word will have to be decided by the context.


While apostate specifically means “a person who has renounced a religion or faith”, it often is used figuratively to mean a person who has renounced any particular belief or policy.

Apostate may have more negative connotations than desired. Note the negative slants in several senses (as noun and adjective) given under the heading Apostate in OED1 (1888):

A. sb. 1. One who abjures or forsakes his religious faith, or abandons his moral allegiance ; a pervert.
2. One who deserts his party, or forsakes his allegiance or troth ; a turncoat, a renegade.
B. adj. 1. Unfaithful to religious principles or creed, or to moral allegiance ; renegade, infidel ; rebellious.

Also consider turncoat (“A traitor; one who turns against a previous affiliation or allegiance”), with synonyms that include apostate, defector, renegade (“A disloyal person who betrays or deserts his cause, religion, political party, friend, etc”), and traitor, besides related terms like recreant, rebel, and aforementioned judas.

The comparison of several of these terms given in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms may be helpful. A brief quote from that link: “Apostate therefore usually connotes surrender, but it need not, as renegade often does, imply treachery or hostility to what is forsaken...”

  • Apostate sounds very fitting, however, what would you say about the moral implications of apostasy? (As I wrote in the clarification above, the act is not necessarily a morally bad one in Swedish.) – skymandr Jan 10 '13 at 17:45
  • I think of apostasy as fairly neutral, but (see edit) dictionaries don't. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jan 10 '13 at 18:18

I think the particular type of betrayal would be understood if you called that person a Judas.

  • It comes close, but as I've explicated in the original question, the Swedish word does not necessarily describe a morally despicable act, which I think that Judas does. – skymandr Jan 10 '13 at 17:32
  • Betrayal of a friend (or other person who has done right by you) is held to be morally despicable in virtually all the cultures I'm acquainted with. – Robusto Jan 10 '13 at 18:48

The great news is that patricide is indeed not as often used in this way in English. Since the metaphor is still understandable, this means you would have writing that is fresh and interesting, rather than clichéd and derivative.

  • And probably libellous. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 10 '13 at 17:27
  • @Jon Hanna: An interesting and important perspective on the matter! – skymandr Jan 10 '13 at 17:36
  • @EdwinAshworth unless there's a suggestion that you literally killed someone, there's no potential for libel. Otherwise just about every enthusiastic report on sporting success would be similarly a libellous claim of murder or at least assault. – Jon Hanna Jan 10 '13 at 18:36
  • I think that the fact that 'patricide is indeed not as often used in this way in English' could be put forward by a half-decent barrister as grounds for there being 'a suggestion that you literally killed someone'. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 10 '13 at 19:34
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    @EdwinAshworth quite apart from it being common in English to metaphorically refer to acts of violence generally, a barrister who managed to convince a jury that the writer was claiming that the protégé turning on the mentor led directly to the protégé's father's death, and hence damaged the esteem in the which their law-abiding peers hold them to a degree reparable by the payment of damages, would have to be more than half-decent. They could ambulance chase music journalists who say a band "really killed" at a gig. – Jon Hanna Jan 10 '13 at 19:53

I'm not sure that there is a single word, but the expressions

may both suffice. The first has exactly the connotation you ask about; the second is more to do with confidence and rebellion against being downtrodden.

  • The worm has turned was an interesting new idiom to me! If you combine the two, I think you come close to what I am after, but sadly, language doesn't quite work that way! – skymandr Jan 10 '13 at 17:33
  • @skymandr I did think about suggesting "The worm has turned to bite the hand that feeds it," but that's even further away from a succinct word! But -- "the worm has turned" exactly matches your last sentence about neutrality and integrity. – Andrew Leach Jan 10 '13 at 17:36

I think that people who turn on their benefactors are simply called ingrates. An idiomatic equivalent would be the phrase, biting the hand that feeds you.

  • They both come close, but as I wrote in a clarifying note, the Swedish word does not necessarily neither the act nor the actor. – skymandr Jan 10 '13 at 17:35
  • @skymandr hmm, perhaps something along the lines of leaving the nest, becoming one's own master, or simply graduating? – coleopterist Jan 10 '13 at 17:56

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