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Sep 8, 2022
This week’s theme
Flowers

This week’s words
roseate
daisy-chain
orchidacity
tall poppy
wallflower

tall poppy
Tarquinius Superbus, 1867
The king chopping off the tallest poppies
Art: Lawrence Alma-Tadema

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

tall poppy

PRONUNCIATION:
(TAWL pop-ee)

MEANING:
noun: Someone conspicuously successful, especially one likely to attract hostility.

ETYMOLOGY:
From tall, from Old English getæl (quick, prompt) + poppy, from Old English popæg/popig. Earliest documented use: 1858.

NOTES:
The word poppy has been used for a prominent person for a long time. The earliest example in the OED is from a 1641, a use by John Milton. Making it “tall poppy” is just a little inflation (or elongation).

The story goes that Sextus, the son of the Roman king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (6th c. BCE), sent a messenger to ask his father for advice on how to control the city of Gabii. Superbus didn’t say anything but chopped off the heads of the tallest poppies in his garden. The messenger told what he saw and the son got the message. He killed the most prominent people in Gabii and overpowered the city.

Tall poppy syndrome is the tendency to cut someone down to size, someone who is successful, rich, or prominent. The expression is popular in Australia and New Zealand. A similar expression is that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. What do you call a person who is too big for their boots in your language or culture? Share on our website or email us at words@wordsmith.org.

USAGE:
“It remains a national pastime to scan the landscape for tall poppies, ensuring none of us get above ourselves.”
Scanning for Poppies; Toronto Star (Canada); Jul 28, 2017.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
If more politicians in this country were thinking about the next generation instead of the next election, it might be better for the United States and the world. -Claude Pepper, senator and representative (8 Sep 1900-1989)

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