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, due to one’s own insecurities.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]


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,[8][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.[9][non-primary source needed]

The Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) was described over twenty five hundred years ago and chronicled cutting down Tall Poppies (TP) in a poppy field. These TPs represented the settlement's prominent people which left the township leaderless facilitating subjugation.[10]

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."[11]

Australia and New Zealand[edit]

Tall poppy syndrome is often used describe an Australian cultural phenomenon in which those who are perceived to be more accomplished are mocked and criticised.[1] It is often described as being the by-product of Australia's cultural value of egalitarianism,[12][3] and as a 'national characteristic' of both Australia and New Zealand.[13] Use of the phrase is first documented in 1864,[14] 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.[15]

Australia has scientifically studied TPS more than any other country, kept the definition very narrow, and is accessible in their dictionaries which also includes the definition of a TP. Most of their studies center on the behaviors of the individual cutter and cuttee. The cutter often has low self-esteem and envy of the TP and cuts the TP down to their size which gives their self-image a boost. If a TP's behavior is deemed egregious for any variety of reasons, the cutter feels justified in cutting the TP down. They also linked Schadenfreude (joy from someone's pain) to the cutter's envy which drives both phenomena.[16]

The term is used in the same manner in New Zealand[17] – 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".[18]


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.[19] This culture is most obvious in the Irish people's cutting-down of Irish celebrities.[20]

Northern Europe[edit]

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).[21]


The definition of Tall Poppy Syndrome is more expansive than the Australian model when all interpretations and cultures are included. The cutter's motives include many of the other dark emotions such as hate, anger and revenge. The cuttee's behavior often includes the dark emotions of pride, lust and greed. TPS is most likely found amongst tribes ("peer to peer") where people are similars (egalitarian cultures) and may be the most common form of TPS but lack studies and verifications. The most apparent form of TPS (public) is the media or a movement cutting down an acknowledged TP whose actions have been deemed egregious. The syndromes becomes even more expansive when all facets of life are included: peer to peer, public, society (movements, media, etc.) vs. peer, company vs peer, organizations vs peer, company vs company, organizations vs organizations. One of the most prominent cutters is governments or their agencies vs all aspects of life including all the preceding forms and even other governments. Their labeling as cutters has been completely ignored but they were the source syndrome's original description and been prevalent ever since in all countries.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b Luby, Miranda (12 June 2017). "Why are Australians so laid back?". BBC. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  4. ^ Pryor, Lisa (1 May 2017). "The End of the Australian Dream?". New York Times. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  5. ^ Mitchell, Carol Vallone (1 August 2016). "A Cautionary Tale for Tall Poppies and Women Leaders". HuffPost. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Tall Poppy Syndrome". Kiwianarama. 7 April 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  7. ^ Chougule, Pratik (22 April 2017). "How America Turned Against Smart Kids". The American Conservative. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  8. ^ Rackham, H. (1944). Aristotle in 23 Volumes. Volume 21. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. |volume= has extra text (help)
  9. ^ Livius, Titus. "The Earliest Legends: 1.54". The History of Rome, Vol. I. University of Virginia Library: Electronic Text Center.
  10. ^ Garland, Douglas (2020). The Tall Poppy Syndrome: Modern Guide to an Ancient Metaphor. Wise Media Group. p. 28.
  11. ^ The Observator (London), 6 December 1710, p.1.
  12. ^ Richards, Deborah & Busch, Peter. (2021). Streamed project work: Letting everyone rise to the challenge.
  13. ^ Holmes, Janet; Marra, Meredith; Lazzaro-Salazar, Mariana (28 March 2017). "Negotiating the tall poppy syndrome in New Zealand workplaces: women leaders managing the challenge". Gender and Language. 11 (1): 1–29. doi:10.1558/genl.31236. ISSN 1747-633X.
  14. ^ Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850–1875, newspaper), 8 December 1864, p.5.
  15. ^ Mitchell, Susan (1984). Tall poppies nine successful Australian women talk to Susan Mitchell. Ringwood, Victoria, Australia Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0140072105.
  16. ^ Garland, Douglas (2020). The Tall Poppy Syndrome: Modern Guide to an Ancient Metaphor. Wise Media Group. pp. 126–146.
  17. ^ Spacey, S. (2015). "Crab Mentality, Cyberbullying and 'Name and Shame' Rankings". Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Sweeney, Tanya. "Tall poppy syndrome - why we Irish love to hate our celebs". Irish Independent. Independent Media. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  21. ^ De maaiveldcultuur is niet exclusief Nederlands
  22. ^ Garland, Douglas (2020). The Tall Poppy Syndrome: Modern Guide to an Ancient Metaphor. Wise Media Group. p. 24.

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