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Author Topic: Is there a word for this?  (Read 873 times)

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Offline DarklingAliceTopic starter

Is there a word for this?
« on: March 27, 2012, 07:35:32 AM »
So yesterday I described the phenomenon of bringing something about through actions taken to avoid that very thing. And it struck me that there really should be a more succinct way to say that.

Does anyone know if there is a word geared specifically towards that concept? I know it is an ironic phenomenon, but "irony" alone seems too non-specific. It doesn't have to be an English word. In fact, I almost think it is more likely to be something in German (since there is some lovely specificity in German vocabulary) or Greek (since it was an important concept in ancient Greek dramatic tradition and philosophy).

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Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2012, 07:43:15 AM »
Here at work we sometimes call this a reactionary conundrum, a situation that results from actions taken to prevent specific event that occurs because we tried to stop it.

Offline Vandren

Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2012, 09:38:29 AM »
There is the phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy" that would be appropriate.

Ex. Society says group X is likely to be violent and commit crime, so Society marginalizes group X and drives them to the fringe of society (to keep group X from committing crimes/violence upon Society), group X then commits crimes in order to survive thus fulfilling the prophecy that group X is likely to be violent and commit crimes.

Offline DarklingAliceTopic starter

Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2012, 06:42:18 AM »
Ooh, I quite like reactionary conundrum! II will have to use that.

A self fulfilling prophecy is a different thing (and notably not ironic). In a self fulfilling prophecy the outcome is expected whereas in the situation I am describing the outcome is the exact opposite of what is expected.

Offline Vandren

Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2012, 10:40:52 PM »
"the phenomenon of bringing something about through actions taken to avoid that very thing."

This is exactly what a self-fulfilling prophecy is, but there are slightly different connotations.

Offline jaybee55

Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2012, 11:27:54 PM »
Quote
the phenomenon of bringing something about through actions taken to avoid that very thing.

I believe one colloquial term for this is "backfire", as in "The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., meant to slow or stop the black civil rights movement, backfired, creating a martyr and inspiring thousands to join the movement."

Quote
This is exactly what a self-fulfilling prophecy is, but there are slightly different connotations.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is one that comes true (partly or completely) because the prophecy was made in the first place.  For example: Zeus had not seriously considered over-throwing his father, Cronos, to take control of Olympus.  But when he heard it foretold that he would do so, the prophecy itself inspired him to wage war on Cronus, which lead to Zeus' conquest of Olympus.

Offline DarklingAliceTopic starter

Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2012, 11:47:37 PM »
Backfire works too. Though a backfire can be a little non-specific. I think a backfire could apply to pretty much any negative consequences, regardless whether or not they were the ones you attempted to avoid in the first place. Though that might be a more liberal usage than the term itself implies.

Self fulfilling prophecy does not apply because, again, the outcome is expected. That's what the whole 'prophecy' part refers to. The prophecy induces action that makes the prophecy true. A self fulfilling prophecy follows the form: I say A will happen, this induces action B, action B brings A about in an example of positive feedback. The situation I am referring to is: I say A must be avoided at all costs, this induces action B, action B ironically brings about A in defiance of expectations.

Offline jaybee55

Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #7 on: March 29, 2012, 06:25:02 AM »
Backfire works too. Though a backfire can be a little non-specific. I think a backfire could apply to pretty much any negative consequences, regardless whether or not they were the ones you attempted to avoid in the first place. Though that might be a more liberal usage than the term itself implies.

It is a bit non-specific, although it can't refer to just any negative consequence.

According to Wikipedia: The word backfire in general use usually refers to a plan where the opposite of the desired effect happens or the perpetrator is directly affected as opposed to their intended target.

The usage of "backfire" in that context comes from early firearms.  If you didn't properly load your weapon (a musket, for example), or if it experienced a mechanical malfunction, the slug you intended to shoot out the muzzle-end of the weapon would instead fire backward, breaking the weapon itself and generally wounding you badly; in other words, the literal opposite of the intended action.

To nitpick my own explanation: Actually, an explosion in the barrel was still referred to as a backfire (because fire and shrapnel would fly into the face of the person using the weapon), even if the slug didn't actually exit the weapon backwards.

Quote
Self fulfilling prophecy does not apply...

Yep.  Exactly my point.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2012, 06:30:56 AM by jaybee55 »

Offline Semantics

Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2012, 11:11:42 AM »
Actually, the way self-fulfilling prophecies are used in stories, the fulfillment isn't expected after the action is taken to avoid it.  And if you take an action to avoid an outcome, that's because you expect that that outcome is at least a possibility.

So, if you just decide you want to avoid A, so do action B, then until you do action B, you sort of expect A.   After you have done B, though, you no longer expect A.  The way a self-fulfilling prophecy is most often used, it works the same way.  Someone says A will happen, you try to avoid it by doing B, then you spend your time blithely sipping mocha lattes until A happens anyway, catching you by surprise.  Or, at least, it would work that way, if the fantasy/mythological things usually utilizing self-fulfilling prophecies actually *had* mocha lattes.  I consider this their failure, though, not my example's.

Self-fulfilling prophecy still doesn't fit, mind, because while it's pretty much always used with a negative connotation, a positive one would fit just as well.  I.E., someone says that A will happen, and you do B to celebrate/prepare for/whatever A, which actually ends up causing it.  The fact that B is an avoiding action is just how self-fulfilling prophecies are generally used, not an actual requirement.  Technically, you don't even *have* to do anything for a self-fulfilling prophecy.  One that causes inaction because someone predicts A, and the lack of action B causes A, would work just as well.

Plus, as previously said, a self-fulfilling prophecy is, as far as I know, called so only in cases where the prophecy is originally false, which isn't necessarily the case here.  (Although, to be honest, how would we know whether it would be false in the future?)

So, sometimes they might overlap, but they're not the same thing.  At least, I think.  It's hard to tell, because at this point the phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy" is apparently used both in the mythological sense and in a social sense, and I'm not altogether sure what the differences are.  (Which is why I didn't include "There is no actual prophecy" as a mark against.)

Offline Haibane

Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2012, 04:30:30 AM »
Getting off-topic but I don't understand how a musket bullet could go backwards. I thought "backfire" as in an intended plan going wrong was named after the bang of a car exhaust from a cylinder misfire (in days before modern cars and electronic fuel management).

Surely an old-time musket misfires or maybe just bursts?

Sorry to go OT but the origins of these quirks of language fascinate me.

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Re: Is there a word for this?
« Reply #10 on: April 11, 2012, 03:51:04 PM »
With guns that involve loading loose powder and touching it off with a spark, there was a risk of the powder exploding prematurely and out the back of the gun, injuring the operator.  With cartridges and firing pins, that risk has been virtually eliminated (although a barrel obstruction, like an uncleared or jammed cartridge can still cause the explosion to go out the breech of the rifle).