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Tall poppies and egalitarianism in Australian discourse: From key word to cultural value

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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. Sometimes, especially in the world of science, the term tall poppy is also used to refer to outstanding scholars who deserve to be publicly acknowledged for their work. This paper looks at tall poppies and at the tall poppy syndrome in Australian discourse, and argues that the term tall poppy is a key word which, when studied closely in terms of its currency, its incidence in collocations, etc., reveals a great deal about the real nature of egalitarianism, one of Australia’s most often named cultural values.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Tasmania

Publication date: January 1, 2004

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