What Is "Tall Poppy Syndrome," and Can I Catch It?

"Tall poppy syndrome" is not contagiousit’s not even a disease.

Samantha Enslen, Writing for
2-minute read


First things first. "Tall poppy syndrome" is not contagious. It’s not even a disease. It’s an Australian expression that refers to a tendency to discredit famous or successful people.

The term cropped up last week in popular media when Aussie actress Rebel Wilson, of the movie Pitch Perfect 2, was accused of lying about her age—claiming to be 29 instead of 36. The story appeared in an Australian tabloid, which quoted an unnamed source decrying Wilson’s “vivid imagination.”

After the story was picked up by several sites, Wilson went to Twitter to post a response: “OMG I’m actually a 100 year old mermaid formerly known as ‘CC Chalice,’” she wrote. “Thanks shady Australian press for your tall poppy syndrome.” [Note to loyal Grammar Girl readers: we know that Ms. Wilson does not use correct punctuation in this quote. We’re giving her a pass because it’s Twitter.]

Wilson didn’t deny the rumor in her tweet and she was later confirmed to be 35.

But she did criticize the Australian press for repeating the rumor and therefore practicing “tall poppy syndrome.” That is, cutting her—a “tall poppy”—down to the level of everyone else.


About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.

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