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

The term “tall poppy” dates back more than a century. The Dublin Review, published in 1860, uses the term to describe individual achievement being sacrificed to promote social equality. Referring to the political climate in France, the author writes, “…it was not the intention of their Legislature merely to cut down every tall poppy, but to reduce every flower in the garden to the same proportions.”

The Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms tells us that the term may date farther back—much farther back. According to the Dictionary, Tarquin, the king of Rome in the 6th century, supposedly “struck off the heads of poppies as a gruesomely graphic demonstration of the way in which the important men of a captured city should be treated.” Ouch.

Rebel Wilson probably didn’t want anyone’s heads chopped off. She probably did want to be spared public shaming just because she’s famous.

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or on Twitter as @DragonflyEdit.



Ayto, John. Tall poppy. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms, 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. http://bit.ly/1F9ZuBJ (subscription required, accessed May 24, 2015).


Field of bright red poppy corn flowers in summer image courtesy of Shutterstock.




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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