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What does one call something that contains the seeds of its own downfall?
October 5, 2006 11:54 AM   Subscribe

What does one call something that contains the seeds of its own downfall?

I'm looking for a word (preferably in English) meaning "a thing which contains the seeds of its own downfall/destruction/failure."

This seems like the type of question that may have already been asked but I searched and found nothing. Thanks.
posted by viewofdelft to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It would help if you could give an example. Does Oedipus count? The tragic flaw of the protagonist of a tragedy is called "hamartia". Do you mean something like a viscious cycle, or a catch-22?

I'm trying to think of something that has a downfall but doesn't contain the seeds of that downfall. I can't.
posted by underwater at 12:00 PM on October 5, 2006


Tragic, if you're being precise with "tragedy."
Tragically-flawed, or self-destructive otherwise.
posted by klangklangston at 12:01 PM on October 5, 2006


Hubristic? Is that a word?
posted by spicynuts at 12:08 PM on October 5, 2006


I'd say "condemned" is probably the closest you'll find. Or some phrase involving "doomed". "Reprobate" fits exactly, but its meaning is diluted these days.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 12:13 PM on October 5, 2006


Fatally flawed.
posted by voidcontext at 12:15 PM on October 5, 2006


My first instinct was tragic, in the strictest definition of the word.
posted by muddgirl at 12:17 PM on October 5, 2006


Achilles Heel?
Inherently Flawed?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:18 PM on October 5, 2006


Look at the wikipedia entry on hamartia. If that's not the exact thing you're looking for, you might get other ideas there, at least.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:22 PM on October 5, 2006


A time-bomb.
posted by frogan at 12:35 PM on October 5, 2006


Planned obsolescence, kind of.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:35 PM on October 5, 2006


Hubristic is indeed a word and would seem appropriate.
posted by greycap at 12:37 PM on October 5, 2006


Hamartia is the flaw, hubris is the behavior that does not acknowledge it.
posted by rhizome at 12:40 PM on October 5, 2006


Hastert-y.
posted by orthogonality at 12:43 PM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


the accursed?
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:44 PM on October 5, 2006


A self-limiting behavior is one whose consequences will discourage or prevent a subject from repeating it.

When a situation can't last long by its own nature, you call it "fragile" or "unstable."

But underwater's got a good point. The very word "downfall" (as opposed to more neutral ones like "bad luck" or "failure") suggests a tragic situation in which the end was implicit in the beginning.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:54 PM on October 5, 2006


In Marxist terms, this would be an "inherent contradiction". But that's two words...
posted by bonecrusher at 12:56 PM on October 5, 2006 [2 favorites]


Hoisted on their own petard.
posted by vito90 at 1:01 PM on October 5, 2006


Since people are ignoring the one word rule, I believe Etta James said, "The same rope/that lifts you up/sure can hang ya".
posted by spicynuts at 1:04 PM on October 5, 2006


Human
posted by witchstone at 1:06 PM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


There is a term in biology that might have merit--Try Apoptosis--programmed self destruction. From Wikipedia:
In biology, apoptosis (from the Greek words apo = from and ptosis = falling, commonly pronounced ap-a-tow'-sis[1]) is one of the main types of programmed cell death (PCD). As such, it is a process of deliberate life relinquishment by a cell in a multicellular organism. In contrast to necrosis, which is a form of cell death that results from acute cellular injury, apoptosis is carried out in an ordered process that generally confers advantages during an organism's life cycle.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:37 PM on October 5, 2006


You just know there's a German word for that exact thing.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 1:52 PM on October 5, 2006


self-contradictory
self-limiting
hypocritical
oxymoronic
unsustainable
sauronic
posted by alms at 2:15 PM on October 5, 2006


You just know there's a German word for that exact thing.

Selbstverdammerung.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:18 PM on October 5, 2006


Self-defeating?

Hamartia is the 'seed' itself, so perhaps there is an ancient greek word for 'the person or thing that has the hamartia'.
posted by MetaMonkey at 2:26 PM on October 5, 2006


cancerous
posted by rob511 at 3:09 PM on October 5, 2006


arrgh, the exact word escapes me right now, but isn't there another word from marxist theory, a single one, which is just this?
posted by whatitis at 3:25 PM on October 5, 2006


Apoptosis is nice. I'd suggest apoptotic for an adjective if it didn't sound like a crispy snack made out of toddlers.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:37 PM on October 5, 2006 [3 favorites]


okay, found it, and it's probably not quite what you were looking for:

dialectic

- the juxtaposition or interaction of conflicting ideas, forces, etc.
- The contradiction between two conflicting forces viewed as the determining factor in their continuing interaction.
- The Marxian process of change through the conflict of opposing forces, whereby a given contradiction is characterized by a primary and a secondary aspect, the secondary succumbing to the primary, which is then transformed into an aspect of a new contradiction. Often used in the plural with a singular or plural verb.
posted by whatitis at 3:38 PM on October 5, 2006


"star-crossed" seems close, but perhaps the astrology flavour might imply an external rather than internal reason for the inevitablity of the doom.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:01 PM on October 5, 2006


The term nemesis has been used to mean something similar:
This is that ancient doctrine of nemesis who keeps watch in the universe, and lets no offense go unchastised.

--Emerson.
Nemesis was literally the goddess of retributive justice, i.e. the personification or literalization of retributive justice. It came to symbolize, at least in some usages, the idea that evildoing contains the seeds of its own inevitable downfall.

"Karma" is, of course, the same idea from the Hindus, but it is not restricted to negative outcomes.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:12 PM on October 5, 2006


The earlier comments of 'tragic' and 'tragic flaw' are exactly right. By definition, in a tragedy, the hero's 'tragic flaw' brings about his/her own downfall.

Apoptosis/apoptotic is tempting but you'd have to explain what it meant every time you used it.
posted by unSane at 9:26 PM on October 5, 2006


How about Duh!
posted by sgobbare at 10:23 PM on October 5, 2006


Or better yet, D'oh!
posted by sgobbare at 5:39 AM on October 6, 2006


This is a basically Marxist idea; I would say that the Marxist use of the word "contradictory" is as close as it gets, but the sense "Capitalism is contradictory in that it creates the proletariat, which is the vehicle for its own destruction." doesn't seem quite right. It's more "Capitalism entails a contradiction..." which is not quite one word. I think the problem is that a system or thing contains a contradiction, rather than being a contradiction.
posted by graymouser at 8:01 AM on October 6, 2006


It's actually basically a Greek idea...
posted by klangklangston at 6:03 AM on October 7, 2006


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