"Thou shalt not be a tall poppy": describing an Australian communicative (and behavioral) norm

Bert Peeters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


In Australian English, tall poppies are usually individuals who, on the basis of unwarranted self-adulation, itself a consequence of success, amassed fortune or fame, have become targets for criticism; or, less frequently, individuals who, overcome by success, amassed fortune or fame, and on the mistaken assumption that they are above the law, have engaged in unlawful behaviour, only to find that, eventually, the law catches up with them as well. They become the victims of a widespread tendency, known as the tall poppy syndrome, to scrutinize high achievers and cut down the tall poppies among them. This paper looks at tall poppies and the tall poppy syndrome in Australian discourse (with special reference to sports and federal politics), and, using Wierzbicka's natural semantic metalanguage, explicates the corresponding communicative (and, more generally, behavioral) norm "Thou shalt not be a tall poppy." In line with the general theme of this journal, the paper also provides some explicit intercultural comparisons. Furthermore, it includes a few more general remarks, in which I look at the notion of "communicative norm" and at the place of intercultural pragmatics within the broader field of intercultural communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-92
Number of pages22
JournalIntercultural Pragmatics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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