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.]
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


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
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014


(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.
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.



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.

Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.


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.
Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002


2. Behavior or an act that is intentionally provocative:
3. Something that incites especially a violent response:
The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
إثارَه، إسْتِفْزاز


[ˌprɒvəˈkeɪʃən] Nprovocación f
she acted under provocationreaccionó a una provocación
to suffer great provocationsufrir una gran provocación
Collins Spanish Dictionary - Complete and Unabridged 8th Edition 2005 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1971, 1988 © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2005


[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
Collins English/French Electronic Resource. © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


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
Collins German Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 7th Edition 2005. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1980 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007


[ˌprɒvəˈkeɪʃn] nprovocazione f
she acted under provocation → ha agito così perché è stata provocata
Collins Italian Dictionary 1st Edition © HarperCollins Publishers 1995


(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
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.
References in classic literature ?
A TURBULENT Person was brought before a Judge to be tried for an assault with intent to commit murder, and it was proved that he had been variously obstreperous without apparent provocation, had affected the peripheries of several luckless fellow-citizens with the trunk of a small tree, and subsequently cleaned out the town.
They jabbed us with their spears and struck at us with the hatchets at the least provocation, and at no provocation at all.
"Do me one more kindness, ma'am; don't tell Miss de Sor when I go away." Ignorant of the provocation which had produced this unforgiving temper of mind, Miss Ladd gently remonstrated.
It was hopelessly cracked; but of an evening, at the slightest provocation, it clattered behind the customer with impudent virulence.
He is convinced that her attempt to run away proceeded from no, justifiable cause, and had no provocation. I am sure I cannot say that it HAD, but while Miss Summers declares that Miss Vernon showed no signs of obstinacy or perverseness during her whole stay in Wigmore Street, till she was detected in this scheme, I cannot so readily credit what Lady Susan has made him, and wants to make me believe, that it was merely an impatience of restraint and a desire of escaping from the tuition of masters which brought on the plan of an elopement.
The other phase of the death-road was that of the habitual drunkards, who had a way of turning up their toes without apparent provocation. When they took sick, even with trifling afflictions that any ordinary man could pull through, they just pegged out.
In which court an indictment of assault, battery, and wounding, was instantly preferred against Tom; who in his excuse only pleaded the provocation, which was indeed all the matter that Master Blifil had omitted.
He came to love them as he loved not even the great apes, and there was one gigantic tusker in particular of which he was very fond--the lord of the herd--a savage beast that was wont to charge a stranger upon the slightest provocation, or upon no provocation whatsoever.
He knew equally well that he fed his wrath and hatred, and that he accumulated provocation and self-justification, by being made the nightly sport of the reckless and insolent Eugene.
Fix's manner had not changed; but Passepartout was very reserved, and ready to strangle his former friend on the slightest provocation.
He had swept it out of existence, as it seemed, without any provocation, as a boy might crush an ant hill, in the mere wantonness of power.
What is more, he will talk to you with excitement and passion of the true normal interests of man; with irony he will upbraid the short- sighted fools who do not understand their own interests, nor the true significance of virtue; and, within a quarter of an hour, without any sudden outside provocation, but simply through something inside him which is stronger than all his interests, he will go off on quite a different tack--that is, act in direct opposition to what he has just been saying about himself, in opposition to the laws of reason, in opposition to his own advantage, in fact in opposition to everything ...