Also found in: Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Idioms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.


1. The act of provoking or inciting.
2. Something that provokes.

[Middle English provocacioun, from Old French provocation, from Latin prōvocātiō, prōvocātiōn-, a challenging, from prōvocātus, past participle of prōvocāre, to challenge; see provoke.]


1. the act of provoking or inciting
2. something that causes indignation, anger, etc
3. (Law) English criminal law words or conduct that incite a person to attack another


(ˌprɒv əˈkeɪ ʃən)

1. the act of provoking.
2. something that provokes, esp. by inciting, instigating, angering, or irritating.
[1375–1425; late Middle English < Latin prōvocātiō challenge, appeal =prōvocā(re) to provoke + -tiō -tion]
prov`o•ca′tion•al, adj.



firebrand One who incites others to strife or revolution, an agitator; any energetic and impassioned person who inspires others to action. Literally, a firebrand is a burning stick that is used to set other materials on fire. The development of its figurative use is obvious.

Our fire-brand brother, Paris, burns us all.
(Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, II, ii)

get a rise out of To tease or goad someone in order to evoke a desired response; to provoke a person to react; to bait. This expression was originally angling parlance—rise describes the movement of a fish to the surface of the water to reach a fly or bait. By the 1800s, expressions such as get or take a rise out of referred to teasing or making a butt of someone. Today the expression has a wider application and can refer to evoking any desired response.

ginger group A faction which serves as the motivating or activating force within a larger body; Young Turks; a splinter group. “Ginger” is a pungent and aromatic substance used as a spice and sometimes used in medicines as a carminative or stimulant. Its qualities have spawned figurative use of the word meaning ‘animation, high spirits, piquancy.’ Thus, “ginger group” is an animating, stimulating subgroup. This British colloquial expression dates from the turn of the century.

The appearance of ginger groups to fight specific proposals, is not necessarily a bad thing—particularly if the established bodies aren’t prepared to fight. (New Society, February 5, 1970)

look at cross-eyed To do the least little thing wrong, to commit the tiniest fault which provokes a response all out of proportion to its significance. This expression has no connection with internal strabismus but merely means to look at someone “the wrong way.” Use of the phrase dates from the mid-20th century.

make waves To disrupt or upset the equilibrium of a situation, to cause trouble, to stir things up.

An unimaginative, traditional career man who does not make waves. (Henry Trewhitt, cited in Webster’s Third)

Another expression, to rock the boat, is probably the source of this phrase, since moving a small boat from side to side creates waves in otherwise smooth water. Literally rocking a boat, especially a canoe or kayak, is a rather risky action since these boats readily capsize.

Unfortunate publicity had a tendency to rock the boat. (Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday, 1931)

policy of pin pricks A strategy in which a series of petty hostile acts is meant to provoke the opposition; a course of trivial annoyances undertaken as a part of national policy. This expression, equivalent to the French un coup d’épingle, was first applied during the Fashoda incident, a period of strained Anglo-French relations in 1898:

Such a policy of “pinpricks” is beginning to be recognized by sensible Frenchmen as a grievous error. (Times, November, 1898)

While the phrase’s usage has declined since the Fashoda incident, it retains occasional use in describing irritating, but usually harmless, government policies.

Russian provocation is at present but a policy of pin-pricks. (Daily Telegraph, March, 1901)

put a cat among the pigeons To start trouble by introducing a highly controversial topic of discussion; to arouse passions by bringing an inflammatory subject into a conversation. This British colloquial expression is equivalent to the American phrase to put a match in a tinderbox.

ringleader One who leads an insurrection; the head of a street gang or underworld syndicate; any instigator or fomenter of trouble. At the elegant soirées of the 16th century, the person who led off the dancing was called the ringleader. He was so named because the participants, prior to the start of the dance, arranged themselves in a circle. In contemporary usage, the term always carries negative connotations, so it is difficult to determine if the current sense did indeed derive from the earlier.

The conspiracy is so nicely balanced among them that I shall never be able to detect the ring-leader. (James Beresford, Miseries of Human Life, 1806-07)

sow dragon’s teeth To incite a not or other conflict; to foment revolution; to kindle the flames of war; to plant the seeds of strife. This expression is based on the ancient Greek myth of Cadmus, a legendary hero who, after slaying a dragon that had devoured his servants, was advised by Athena to plant the monster’s teeth in the ground, apparently to placate Mars, the deity who owned the dragon. The teeth produced fully armed soldiers who fought among themselves until all but five had been killed. Thus, while Cadmus thought his actions would have a pacifying effect, they did, in fact, cause more strife—a concept often implicit in the figurative use of sow dragon’s teeth.

Jesuits … sowed dragon’s teeth which sprung up into the hydras of rebellion and apostasy. (John Marsden, The History of the Early Pilgrims, 1853)

stir up a hornets’ nest To activate latent hostility, to ask for trouble; to provoke a great stir and commotion of an antagonistic or controversial nature. The hornet has been symbolic of a virulent attacker for centuries; the phrase hornets’nest appeared in Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1739); the now more common stir up a hornets’nest is widely used in both the United States and Britain:

Judges have stirred up a hornets’ nest in the sacred territory of “the right to strike.” (The Listener, August, 1966)

wave the bloody shirt To incite to vengeance or retaliatory action; to foment or exacerbate hostilities. Two plausible theories are offered as to the origin of this phrase. One traces it to the Scottish battle of Glenfruin recounted by Sir Walter Scott in Rob Roy, after which the widows of the slain rode before James VI bearing their husbands’ bloody shirts on spears. The other traces it to the Corsican custom of mourning victims of feudal murder. The dead man’s bloody shirt, hung above his head as wailing female mourners surrounded his body and armed men guarded them all, was suddenly snatched and brandished about by one of the women, amidst increasingly loud lamentation. The men echoed her cries and vowed vengeance. Wave the bloody shirt was much used in the United States during the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War in reference to those who exploited and perpetuated sectional hostilities.

ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.provocation - unfriendly behavior that causes anger or resentmentprovocation - unfriendly behavior that causes anger or resentment
aggro - (informal British usage) aggravation or aggression; "I skipped it because it was too much aggro"
aggression - deliberately unfriendly behavior
last straw - the final irritation that stretches your patience beyond the limit
taunt, taunting, twit - aggravation by deriding or mocking or criticizing
2.provocation - something that incites or provokes; a means of arousing or stirring to action
mental energy, psychic energy - an actuating force or factor
signal - any incitement to action; "he awaited the signal to start"; "the victory was a signal for wild celebration"
3.provocation - needed encouragement; "the result was a provocation of vigorous investigation"
encouragement - the expression of approval and support
subornation - underhandedly or improperly inducing someone to do something improper or unlawful


1. cause, reason, grounds, motivation, justification, stimulus, inducement, incitement, instigation, casus belli (Latin) The soldiers fired without provocation.
2. offence, challenge, insult, taunt, injury, dare, grievance, annoyance, affront, indignity, red rag, vexation They kept their tempers in the face of severe provocation.


2. Behavior or an act that is intentionally provocative:
3. Something that incites especially a violent response:
إثارَه، إسْتِفْزاز


[ˌprɒvəˈkeɪʃən] Nprovocación f
she acted under provocationreaccionó a una provocación
to suffer great provocationsufrir una gran provocación


[ˌprɒvəˈkeɪʃən] n
(gen)provocation f
The soldiers fired without provocation
BUT Les soldats ont fait feu sans qu'on les ait provoqués.
at the least provocation, at the slightest provocation → à la moindre provocation
(LAW)provocation f


nProvokation f, → Herausforderung f; what provocation was there for you to hit him?was hat dich dazu provoziert, ihn zu schlagen?; he acted under provocationer wurde dazu provoziert or herausgefordert; his deliberate provocation of a quarrelseine bewusste Herbeiführung eines Streits; to suffer great provocationsehr stark provoziert werden; at the slightest provocationbei der geringsten Provokation or Herausforderung; he hit me without any provocationer hat mich geschlagen, ohne dass ich ihn dazu provoziert hätte


[ˌprɒvəˈkeɪʃn] nprovocazione f
she acted under provocation → ha agito così perché è stata provocata


(prəˈvəuk) verb
1. to make angry or irritated. Are you trying to provoke me?
2. to cause. His words provoked laughter.
3. to cause (a person etc) to react in an angry way. He was provoked into hitting her.
provocation (provəˈkeiʃən) noun
the act of provoking or state of being provoked.
proˈvocative (-ˈvokətiv) adjective
likely to rouse feeling, especially anger or sexual interest. provocative remarks; a provocative dress.
proˈvocatively adverb
References in classic literature ?
Laurie spoke excitedly, and looked ready to carry his threat into execution on the slightest provocation, for he was growing up very fast and, in spite of his indolent ways, had a young man's hatred of subjection, a young man's restless longing to try the world for himself.
But there is no one thing which men so rarely do, whatever the provocation or inducement, as to bequeath patrimonial property away from their own blood.
It is not the least among the strange things bred by the intense artificialness of sea-usages, that while in the open air of the deck some officers will, upon provocation, bear themselves boldly and defyingly enough towards their commander; yet, ten to one, let those very officers the next moment go down to their customary dinner in that same commander's cabin, and straightway their inoffensive, not to say deprecatory and humble air towards him, as he sits at the head of the table; this is marvellous, sometimes most comical.
There was only one thing that was capable of arousing her, and that provocation came in on the side of her unusually gentle and sympathetic nature;--anything in the shape of cruelty would throw her into a passion, which was the more alarming and inexplicable in proportion to the general softness of her nature.
I come from a region where a lady would hardly give me the same provocation.
He told Chambers that under no provocation whatever was he privileged to lift his hand against his little master.
Elinor kept her concern and her censure to herself; and was very thankful that Marianne was not present, to share the provocation.
It little mattered whether my curiosity irritated him; I knew the pleasure of vexing and soothing him by turns; it was one I chiefly delighted in, and a sure instinct always prevented me from going too far; beyond the verge of provocation I never ventured; on the extreme brink I liked well to try my skill.
If he should mention it to you, I am anxious to acknowledge, of my own accord, that I forgot myself -- not, I hope you will think, without some provocation.
Bankruptcy must inevitably have come of this young Pagan, in Lombard-street, London, and also of a curtained alcove in the rear of the immortal boy, and also of a looking-glass let into the wall, and also of clerks not at all old, who danced in public on the slightest provocation.
Being, by that time, rather tired of this kind of life, and having received new provocation from the butcher, I throw the flower away, go out with the butcher, and gloriously defeat him.
It is well and wisely spoken, brave Robin Hood,'' said Wilfred, apart; ``and know, moreover, that they who jest with Majesty even in its gayest mood are but toying with the lion's whelp, which, on slight provocation, uses both fangs and claws.