Tall poppy syndrome

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The tall poppy syndrome describes the cultural phenomenon of mocking people who think highly of themselves, "cutting down the tall poppy". Common in Australia and New Zealand, it is seen by many as self-deprecating and by others as promoting modesty and egalitarianism. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]



Tarquinius Superbus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, depicting the king receiving a laurel wreath; the poppies in the foreground refer to the "tall poppy" allegory Lawrence Alma-Tadema 11.jpeg
Tarquinius Superbus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, depicting the king receiving a laurel wreath; the poppies in the foreground refer to the "tall poppy" allegory

The concept originates from accounts in Herodotus' Histories (Book 5, 92f), Aristotle's Politics (1284a), and Livy's Ab Urbe Condita Libri, Book I, [7] with reversed roles, referring to Periander's advice to Thrasybulus via a herald.

The specific reference to poppies occurs in Livy's account of the tyrannical Roman king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. He is said to have received a messenger from his son Sextus Tarquinius asking what he should do next in Gabii, since he had become all-powerful there. Rather than answering the messenger verbally, Tarquin went into his garden, took a stick, and symbolically swept it across his garden, thus cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies that were growing there. The messenger, tired of waiting for an answer, returned to Gabii and told Sextus what he had seen. Sextus realised that his father wished him to put to death all of the most eminent people of Gabii, which he then did. [8]

The earliest English-language example of Tall Poppies being used as a metaphor for notables may be found in Roger L'Estrange's newspaper, The Observator , in 1710. One party to a dialogue relates the tale of Tarquin, and later observes approvingly of his Royalist allies, "If you'll have but a little Patience, you may see them make very noble Efforts towards striking off the Heads of the tall Poppies." [9]

Australia and New Zealand

Use of the phrase is first documented in 1864, [10] with the common usage appearing after the publication of Susan Mitchell's best-selling book Tall Poppies in 1984 in which Mitchell interviewed nine successful Australian women. [11]

The term is used in the same manner in New Zealand [12] – people are expected to be humble and self deprecating, "as though excellence or superiority in a particular field somehow represented a rebuff to ideas of equality". [13]


In Ireland, especially the traditionally-Catholic Republic of Ireland, it is prevalent within the culture to encourage humility in yourself and others. People perceived to be tall poppies will often be described as "getting notions about themselves" and the cautionary words of '"don't go getting notions about yourself" will meet any boastful remarks. [14] This culture is most obvious in the Irish people's notorious cutting-down of Irish celebrities. [15]

Northern Europe

The concepts of Janteloven or "Law of Jante", in Scandinavia, and A kent yer faither (English: I knew your father) in Scotland, are very similar. Similar phenomena are said to exist in the Netherlands (where it is called maaiveldcultuur). [16]

See also

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  2. Luby, Miranda (12 June 2017). "Why are Australians so laid back?". BBC. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  3. Pryor, Lisa (1 May 2017). "The End of the Australian Dream?". New York Times. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  4. Mitchell, Carol Vallone (1 August 2016). "A Cautionary Tale for Tall Poppies and Women Leaders". HuffPost. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  5. "Tall Poppy Syndrome". Kiwianarama. 7 April 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  6. Chougule, Pratik (22 April 2017). "How America Turned Against Smart Kids". The American Conservative. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  7. Rackham, H. (1944). Aristotle in 23 Volumes. Volume 21. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  8. Livius, Titus. "The Earliest Legends: 1.54". The History of Rome, Vol. I. University of Virginia Library: Electronic Text Center.
  9. The Observator (London), 6 December 1710, p.1.
  10. Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850–1875, newspaper), 8 December 1864, p.5.
  11. Mitchell, Susan (1984). Tall poppies nine successful Australian women talk to Susan Mitchell . Ringwood, Victoria, Australia Penguin Books. ISBN   978-0140072105.
  12. Spacey, S. (2015). "Crab Mentality, Cyberbullying and 'Name and Shame' Rankings" . Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  13. Levine, Stephen (20 June 2012). "Political values - Political values and the 'Kiwi' way of life". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand . Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  14. Mc Bride, Aoibhinn (17 January 2017). "Aoibhinn Mc Bride: Let's get over our silly shame at having notions". Evoke.ie . Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  15. Sweeney, Tanya. "Tall poppy syndrome - why we Irish love to hate our celebs". Irish Independent . Independent Media. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  16. De maaiveldcultuur is niet exclusief Nederlands

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