Tall poppy syndrome

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The tall poppy syndrome is a cultural phenomenon in which people hold back, criticise, or sabotage those who have or are believed to have achieved notable success in one or more aspects of life, particularly intellectual or cultural wealth—"cutting down the tall poppy."[1] It describes a draw towards mediocrity and conformity.

Commonly in Australia and New Zealand, "cutting down the tall poppy" is used to describe those who deliberately put down another for their success and achievements.[1][2]

In Japan, a similar common expression is "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down".[3][citation needed]


Tarquinius Superbus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, depicting the king sweeping the tallest heads from a patch of poppies

The concept originates from accounts in Herodotus' Histories (Book 5, 92f), Aristotle's Politics (1284a), and Livy's Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Book I, ch.54) [4][non-primary source needed] 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.[5][non-primary source needed]

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  1. ^ a b Peeters, Bert (1 January 2004). "Tall poppies and egalitarianism in Australian discourse: From key word to cultural value". English World-Wide. 25 (1): 1–25. doi:10.1075/eww.25.1.02pee. ISSN 0172-8865.
  2. ^ Kennedy, Jeffrey (2007). "Leadership and Culture in New Zealand". In Chhokar, Jagdeep; Brodbeck, Felix; House, Robert (eds.). Culture and Leadership Across the World: The GLOBE Book of In-Depth Studies of 25 Societies. United States: Psychology Press. p. 399. ISBN 978-0-8058-5997-3.
  3. ^ ことわざを知る辞典,デジタル大辞泉. "出る杭は打たれるとは". コトバンク (in Japanese). Retrieved 12 February 2022.
  4. ^ Rackham, H. (1944). Aristotle in 23 Volumes. Vol. 21. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  5. ^ Livius, Titus. "The Earliest Legends: 1.54". The History of Rome, Vol. I. University of Virginia Library: Electronic Text Center.

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