"Backstabbing" redirects here. For coworker backstabbing, see Coworker backstabbing.

Betrayal (or backstabbing) is the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract
A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...

, trust
Trust (sociology)
In a social context, trust has several connotations. Definitions of trust typically refer to a situation characterised by the following aspects: One party is willing to rely on the actions of another party ; the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor abandons control over...

, or confidence
Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Self-confidence is having confidence in oneself. Arrogance or hubris in this comparison, is having unmerited...

 that produces moral
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

 and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations. Often betrayal is the act of supporting a rival group, or it is a complete break from previously decided upon or presumed norms by one party from the others. Someone who betrays others is commonly called a traitor or betrayer. Betrayal is also a commonly used literary element and is often associated with or used as a plot twist
Plot twist
A plot twist is a change in the expected direction or outcome of the plot of a film, television series, video game, novel, comic or other fictional work. It is a common practice in narration used to keep the interest of an audience, usually surprising them with a revelation...



Roger L. Jackson
Roger L. Jackson
Roger Labon Jackson is an American voice actor. He is best known for voicing the killer Ghostface in the Scream films, leaving him to keep an unknown identity to withhold the mystery of Ghostface...

, author of the article, The Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811, is a British romance novel by Jane Austen, her first published work under the pseudonym, "A Lady." Jane Austen is considered a pioneer of the romance genre of novels, and for the realism portrayed in her novels, is one the most widely read writers in...

 of Betrayal: Discovering the Meaning of Treachery Through Jane Austen
Jane Austen
Jane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics.Austen lived...

, writes that "there has been surprisingly little written about what we even mean by the term". In psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

, practitioners describe betrayal as the breaking of a social contract; however, critics of this approach claim that the term social contract does not accurately reflect the conditions and motivations for, and effects of, betrayal. Philosophers Judith Shklar and Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
Peter Robert Johnson , is a Birkenhead based business man and football investor.The son of a butcher, Johnson helped build the family business into Park Foods, the leading supplier of Christmas hampers in the early 1990s. From this base, Johnson took Tranmere Rovers from the foot of the Football...

, authors of The Ambiguities of Betrayal and Frames of Deceit respectively, contend that while no clear definition of betrayal is available, betrayal is more effectively understood through literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...


AI, A.I., Ai, or ai may refer to:- Computers :* Artificial intelligence, a branch of computer science* Ad impression, in online advertising* .ai, the ISO Internet 2-letter country code for Anguilla...

 researcher Selmer Bringsjord
Selmer Bringsjord
Selmer Bringsjörd is the chair of the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is also a professor of Computer Science and Cognitive Science. He conducts research in Artificial Intelligence as the director of the Rensselaer AI & Reasoning Lab...

 made betrayal the core of a storytelling program BRUTUS
Brutus is the cognomen of the Roman gens Junia, a prominent family of the Roman Republic. The plural of Brutus is Bruti, and the vocative form is Brute, as immortalized in the quotation "Et tu, Brute?", from Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar....

. In Artificial Intelligence and Literary Creativity: Inside the Mind of BRUTUS, a Storytelling Machine, betrayal is defined operationally in computer language as basically as knowingly thwarting another out of something that ought to occur.

Theoretical and practical needs

Jackson explains why a clear definition is needed:
Betrayal is both a "people" problem and a philosopher's problem. Philosophers should be able to clarify the concept of betrayal, compare and contrast it with other moral concepts, and critically assess betrayal situations. At the practical level people should be able to make honest sense of betrayal and also to temper its consequences: to handle it, not be assaulted by it. What we need is a conceptually clear account of betrayal that differentiates between genuine and merely perceived betrayal, and which also provides systematic guidance for the assessment of alleged betrayal in real life.

Ben-Yehuda's 2001 work ("Betrayals and Treason Violations of Trust and Loyalty" Westview Press) framed all forms of betrayals and treason under a unifying analytical framework using loyalty, trust and moral boundaries as explanatory tools.

Signature and consequences

An act of betrayal creates a signature constellation, in both its victims and its perpetrators, of negative behaviours, thoughts, and feelings. The interactions are complex. The victims exhibit anger and confusion, and demand atonement from the perpetrator; who in turn may experience guilt or shame, and exhibit remorse. If, after the perpetrator has exhibited remorse or apologized, the victim continues to express anger, this may in turn cause the perpetrator to become defensive, and angry in turn. Forgiveness of betrayal is exhibited by the victim foregoing the demands for atonement and retribution; and is only complete where the victim does not continue to remind the perpetrator of the act, to demand apologies, or to review the incident again and again.

Betrayal trauma

The term, betrayal trauma, was first used by Jennifer Freyd ( to explain why a victim might repress harm by a person upon whom they rely for satisfaction of a need necessary for continued wellbeing. Substantially similar to the dissociative amnesia theory, the betrayal trauma theory (DePrince, 2005; DePrince & Freyd, 1999; Freyd, 1996, 1997; Freyd, DePrince & Zurbriggen, 2001) proposes that a social utility might cause an individual to undergo traumatic amnesia in favor of maintenance of a relationship perceived as needed for survival. Freyd suggested the degree to which the relationship is viewed as needed influences how events are processed and remembered. Unawareness and forgetting of abuse were substantially higher when the relationship between perpetrator and victim involved closeness, trust, or care-giving.

Hensley (2009c)argued the theory as presented by Freyd described the biological, psychological, and sociological (Biopsychosocial)response to the insult, rather than the insult itself. Hensley (2006, 2009c) defines betrayal trauma as the biological, psychological, and/or sociological (biopsychosocial) harm caused by an actual or perceived violation of a psychological contract by person(s) upon which the victim relies for some aspect of his or her holistic wellbeing. Hensley (2009c) argues betrayal trauma is far more injurious than physical and other traumas in that it destabilizes the mental model, schemas, and psychological contracts the victim has established to see, understand, and respond to life events, leading to extreme biopsychosocial distress. It violates the victim's understanding of rules, roles, relationships, respect, morals, ethics, and values, which are the core tenents of the psychological contract. Return to equilibrium requires the individual to redefine one or more of these tenents.


Betrayal is the violation of an expressed or perceived trust by a person or persons with whom a person relies upon for some aspect of his or her life. Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson was a Danish-German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on social development of human beings. He may be most famous for coining the phrase identity crisis. His son, Kai T...

 conceptualized eight psycho-developmental stages through which a person evolves throughout his or her life from birth to death. Each stage presents the person with challenges necessary to develop attributes foundational to subsequent stages. While Erikson ascribed ages a person enters and exits each psychosocial stage, the exact ages continue to be the subject of controversy. However, the model continues to be accepted by multidisciplinary theorists, researchers, and practitioners as the foundation for understanding perception, cognition, and behavior occurring during a person’s lifespan.

Erikson conceptualized from birth to one year of age, the foundational basis of a person’s mental model, psychological contract(s), and interaction with his or her environment is formed. At birth, an infant’s ability to signal to others his or her needs is nascent. The infant resides at the most foundational layers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans' innate curiosity...

 (Maslow, 1954) – the Physiological Layer. The emerging mind of the infant exists without the ability to reason. The infant is, however, endowed with one desire – the desire to survive. With the infant’s biological, psychological, and sociological self working as a Holon, or a system of systems, the child establishes / realizes his or her first post-natal conceptualization – crying brings forth an individual to satisfy inherent physiological needs – the need of food, water, and cleansing from urination and defecation. This conceptualization forms the core of the infant’s understanding of rules, roles, responsibilities, respect, morals, ethics, and values – the infant’s mental model (Johnson-Laird, 1983; Hensley, 2006). This interaction also forms the individual’s pivotal psychological contract (Hensley, 2006; 2009a; 2009b; 2009c) from which all subsequent psychological contracts are constructed. Through conditioned learning, the infant trusts when he or she cries, a person will come to satisfy his or her needs. If, however, the mother fails to come, or only comes intermittently, the infant learns to distrust. The infant carries forward the belief that people can be undependable, and unpredictable. Children of abusive or negligent parents are likely to view the world as dangerous and powerful or influential others are not to be trusted. It should be noted that adaptation to this conditioning are varied. This is sometimes held to cause attachment disorder.

Hensley (2006, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c) argued a person’s mental model, psychological contracts, and schemas are the result of conditioning in a gender role congruent environment. Persons evolve through Erikson’s first five stages – Hope, Will, Purpose, Competence, and Fidelity – in accordance with socioculturally acceptable gender role expectancies. The person perceives, understands, and responds to life experiences in accordance with gender role congruent rules, roles, responsibility, respect, morals, ethics, and values.

Emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2000), during which persons enter Erikson’s sixth stage – Love – sometimes presents men and women with a trust-based mental model, psychological contracts, and schemas with environments vastly different from positive childhood environments.


A prominent example of betrayal likely to evoke betrayal trauma in adolescents, bullying, is currently receiving international attention. On January 14, 2010, 15-year old Phoebe Prince hung herself after harassment at school. Alexis Pilkington, 17, took her own life on March 21, 2010 following taunts on social networking sites. On September 9, 2010, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana hung himself from barn rafters after female classmates harassed him for being gay. Eighteen-year-old Tyler Clementi of Rutgers University jumped off a bridge to his death on September 22, 2010 after a college roommate posted footage online of him having sex with another man in his dorm room. Two fellow students have been charged with invasion of privacy. Many teens are the victims of biopsychosocial torture by perpetrators operating with near impunity. On October 17, 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier hung herself three weeks before her 14th birthday following cyberbullying on a social networking site. Erikson’s 5th stage is particularly salient to these deaths in that during the 5th stage the person develops his or her sense of identity in relationship to his or her environment. Peers are inherently pivotal to navigating this stage. Dependent on this stage is the ego quality of fidelity—the ability to sustain loyalties freely pledged in spite of the inevitable contradictions and confusions of value systems.

During Erikson’s 5th or 6th psycho-developmental stage, emerging male and female adults become prey for persons with narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder is a personality disorder in which the individual is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity...

 (NPD). Narcissists are initially extremely attentive, flattering, and charismatic. Highly adept at enticing persons with naiveté, victims often find themselves feeling helpless and betrayed. Victims of narcissists often present a variety emotional complaints including insomnia, weight loss or gain, depression, anxiety, and phobias. Some victims report feelings of overwhelming despair, emptiness, loneliness, or doom. Some victims express suicidal ideation
Suicidal ideation
Suicidal ideation is a common medical term for thoughts about suicide, which may be as detailed as a formulated plan, without the suicidal act itself. Although most people who undergo suicidal ideation do not commit suicide, some go on to make suicide attempts...


Hersey and Buhl (1990) discuss the betrayal associated with date rape
Date rape
"Date rape", often referred to as acquaintance rape, is an assault or attempted assault usually committed by a new acquaintance involving sexual intercourse without mutual consent....

. The authors assert characteristics similar to males with NPD – disregard space
Personal space
Personal space is the region surrounding a person which they regard as psychologically theirs. Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when their personal space is encroached. Permitting a person to enter personal space and entering somebody else's personal...

 and boundaries
Personal boundaries
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for him- or herself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits.'Personal boundaries define...

, are aggressive and angry, and express little empathy
Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by E.B...

 for the needs of others. They are also highly charismatic in social environments. Perpetrators will typically isolate victims from others, especially friends, family, and their support system. Many rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

 victims suffer from betrayal trauma. Symptoms include loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, nightmares, extreme phobias, preoccupation with the rape, anxiety about leaving the home and being with other people, inability to concentrate on studies or work, and sexual dysfunction.

The economic downturn of the during the first decade of the 21st century resulted in persons entering gender role incongruent environments, such as women in combat. Hensley (2006, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c) argues feminine gender role congruent personality and ways of coping, through which many females and some males view, understand, and respond to life events, are often ineffective in coping with a gender role incongruent environment. Hensley (2006, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c) argues, as female service members who have been conditioned as traditional females are presented with combat-related events, they experience stress-evoking cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying,...

 (Festinger, 1957) resulting from dual gender role expectancies or gender role incongruence. This cognitive dissonance and post-event reflection in the post-event or post-deployment gender role congruent environment can potentially result in post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...

 (PTSD). Combat and non-combat life events that deviate from predeployment expectancies can also result in betrayal trauma.


Jennifer Freyd
Jennifer Freyd
Jennifer J. Freyd is an American psychologist, Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, and editor of the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation...

 (1994, 1996) first defined the term "betrayal trauma" as a venue for describing the biopsychosocial utility in preserving a relationship with powerful or influential person, upon whom the victim depends for some aspect of his or her life, by repressing, forgetting, or minimizing
Minimisation (psychology)
Minimisation is a type of deception involving denial coupled with rationalisation in situations where complete denial is implausible. It is the opposite of exaggeration....

 physical, mental, or emotional harm. Freyd, Klest, Allard (2005) and others have researched extensively the phenomenon of dissociation
Dissociation is an altered state of consciousness characterized by partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of a person’s normal conscious or psychological functioning. Dissociation is most commonly experienced as a subjective perception of one's consciousness being detached from...

 resulting from physical and psychological harm by powerful and influential others.

As a plausible explanation of the actions of the defendants in the Abu Ghraib Detention Facility
Abu Ghraib prison
The Baghdad Central Prison, formerly known as Abu Ghraib prison is in Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi city 32 km west of Baghdad. It was built by British contractors in the 1950s....

 Courts Martials, Alan Hensley (2004) provided the Area Defense Counsel with a defense strategy constructed upon Freyd’s argument. Hensley argued many of the defendants repressed conditioned rules, roles, responsibility, respect, morals, ethics, and values learned prior to deployment in favor of following the interrogation techniques of aggressive role models as a venue for survival. Freyd asserted awareness of the betrayal is not a prerequisite for betrayal trauma or concomitant repression or minimization to occur. Hensley (2004) argued persons in a gender role incongruent environment faced with exigent circumstances possibly also repress, forget, minimize
Minimisation (psychology)
Minimisation is a type of deception involving denial coupled with rationalisation in situations where complete denial is implausible. It is the opposite of exaggeration....

, or rely upon biologically based coping strategies
Coping Strategies
Coping Strategies is treatment designed for posttraumatic stress disorder within United States Armed Forces personnel and their families by the charitable organization Patriot Outreach...

 when conditioned coping strategies are seen by the victim as being ineffectual. The Stanford prison experiment
Stanford prison experiment
The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted from August 14th-20th, 1971, by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University...

 (Musen & Zimbardo, 1991) greatly supported this argument.

General Karpinski stated during the Court Martial of Lynndie England
Lynndie England
Lynndie Rana England is a former United States Army reservist who served in the 372nd Military Police Company. She was one of eleven military personnel convicted in 2005 by Army courts-martial in connection with the torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad during the occupation...

 that England’s motivations were indisputably the consequence of reliance upon, and infatuation with, Army Reservist Specialist Charles Graner. Graner was sentenced to 10 years confinement for his involvement in the detainee abuse. Several earlier events pointed to predisposition for his behavior. His former wife, Stacy Dean, was granted at least three protection orders. The first protection order was granted in 1997. Graner had pulled Dean out of bed by her hair, dragged her down the hall, and attempted to push her down the steps. Graner had also been accused of mistreating prisoners at the State Correctional Facility in Greene County, Pennsylvania where he was employed as a guard in 1998. The defendant serving the longest sentence for the Abu Ghraib, then, had a lengthy history of anger and abuse. Hensley (2004) argued other soldiers convicted of abuse considered Graner as a powerful and influential role model because of his experience in the correctional system. The other defendants were, however, betrayed and many, especially Lynndie England, continue to suffer from betrayal trauma.

Eleven United States Army Soldiers and five officers were disciplined for the Abu Ghraib Detention Facility detainee abuses. Commanding Officer, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski and many of the defendants argued the abuses were in keeping with orders by higher authority. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others argued no such orders were issued. A 232-page report released the Senate in May 2005, however, supported the assertions that the interrogation techniques were, in fact, authorized by members of the Bush Administration's Office of the Attorney General. Despite this revelation, none of the disciplinary actions of the soldiers or officers has been rescinded.

Hensley (2006) also asserts the biopsychosocial distress associated with betrayal trauma is responsible for the death of Army Specialist Alyssa Peterson, 27. On Sept. 15, 2003, Peterson, 27, an Arabic-speaking Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Collector and devout Mormon, died of self-inflicted injuries at Tal-Afar Air Base. During the Article 32 investigation that followed her death, coworkers asserted Peterson vehemently objected to the aggressive interrogation practices used on the detainees. The investigation also revealed Peterson had been repeatedly reprimanded for her inability to become more aggressive.


Betrayal at any stage of the socio-developmental cycle results in extreme biopsychosocial distress far beyond the event itself. It disrupts the person’s established mental model by which he or she views, understands, and responds to his or her environment and life events, destabilizes the co-occurring psychological contracts by which one trusts, and negates important aspects of viable strategies by which the person copes with life events. Planful problem-solving coping strategies often become non-viable, resulting in activation of primitive biologically based, amygdala-driven coping mechanisms that are often long-term maladaptive (Hensley, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c).

The United States Army is investigating numerous adverse issues in the 10th year of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In October 2010, an internal investigation ordered by Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli found a growing number of soldiers are engaging in such high-risk behavior as alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, homicide and suicide, drunken driving, and motorcycle street racing. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) of military females reaches nearly 30 percent. Some military males are also subjected to MST. Several occurrences of MST go unreported. Hensley (2006) argues many victims fail to report MST in order to preserve interpersonal relationships necessary for survival in an exigent environment. Such MST may be forgotten, repressed, or minimized until the relationship is no longer needed or no longer viable (e.g. post-deployment). Post-deployment allegations of MST occurring deployment are often dismissed for lack of evidence or due to statute of limitations. Hensley (2006) argues, unfortunately, recall is often not plausible until many months after deployment (typically three months). Consequently, extreme biopsychosocial distress associated with betrayal – betrayal trauma – is likely to occur during this timeframe. Ignoring or minimizing the significance of the event and failure to prosecute perpetrators further adds to the feelings of betrayal. A prominent example of this argument is Suzanne Swift, who was court-martialed for desertion after she refused to redeploy with persons who had victimized her during a previous deployment.

Political betrayal

Most adults living in western democracies place trust in the state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

 of which they are a citizen. If this trust is betrayed, at its worst, the individual can suffer psychological betrayal trauma. Betrayal trauma has symptoms similar to post traumatic stress disorder, although the element of amnesia and dissociation is likely to be greater.

The key difference between traditional post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and betrayal trauma is that the former is historically seen as being caused primarily by fear
Fear is a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger...

, whereas betrayal trauma is a response to extreme anger
Anger is an automatic response to ill treatment. It is the way a person indicates he or she will not tolerate certain types of behaviour. It is a feedback mechanism in which an unpleasant stimulus is met with an unpleasant response....

. Fear and anger are the two sides to the fight-flight response
Fight or Flight
Fight or Flight may refer to:* Fight-or-flight response, the biological response of animals to acute stress* "Fight or Flight!" , a song off the album Aneurythm by the American hard rock band Living Syndication...

, and as such are our strongest and most basic psychological emotions.

Pure political betrayal trauma can be caused by situations such as wrongful arrest
An arrest is the act of depriving a person of his or her liberty usually in relation to the purported investigation and prevention of crime and presenting into the criminal justice system or harm to oneself or others...

 and conviction by the legal system of a western democracy; or by discrimination
Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership in a certain group or category. It involves the actual behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. The term began to be...

, bullying or other serious mistreatment by a state institution or powerful figure within the state.

In practice, however, it is likely that most people with symptoms of psychological trauma have elements of both fear based PTSD and anger based betrayal trauma, not one or the other. Certainly in the most serious cases of PTSD there is an element of both. For instance, the fact that a soldier is sent to war
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...

 by the state is an important element in the reasons for war being a major cause of PTSD. In cases where soldiers are horrified by the actions or orders of their commanding officers, or where they are victims of friendly fire
Friendly fire
Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire...

, their PTSD is likely to be worse because of the element of betrayal will be that much greater. Similarly, one of the most psychologically traumatising events in history, the Holocaust, is almost certainly so serious a case because the element of state betrayal is as great as the element of fear trauma.


The phrase originates from the use of the word cross in the sense of foul play
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

; deliberate collusion to lose a contest of some kind.

It has also been suggested that the term was inspired by the practice of 18th-century British thief taker and criminal Jonathan Wild
Jonathan Wild
Jonathan Wild was perhaps the most infamous criminal of London — and possibly Great Britain — during the 18th century, both because of his own actions and the uses novelists, playwrights, and political satirists made of them...

, who kept a ledger of his transactions and is said to have placed two crosses by the names of persons who had cheated him in some way. This folk etymology is almost certainly incorrect, but there is documentary evidence that the term did exist in the 19th century.

More recently, the phrase was used to refer to either of two possible situations:
  1. A competitor participating in the fix who has agreed to throw their game instead competes as usual, against the original intention of their collaborators - one "cross" against another.
  2. Two opposing parties are approached, urging them to throw the game and back the other. Both parties lose out, and the perpetrators benefit by backing a third, winning party.

This use has passed into common parlance, so that, for example, in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, British
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 Military Intelligence used the Double Cross System
Double Cross System
The Double Cross System, or XX System, was a World War II anti-espionage and deception operation of the British military intelligence arm, MI5. Nazi agents in Britain - real and false - were captured, turned themselves in or simply announced themselves and were then used by the British to broadcast...

 to release captured Nazis
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 back to Germany bearing false information.

(To 'cross swords' was a term for a duel where two drawn swords made an X. So to cross someone was to take a sparring position against them.)

See also

  • Adultery
    Adultery is sexual infidelity to one's spouse, and is a form of extramarital sex. It originally referred only to sex between a woman who was married and a person other than her spouse. Even in cases of separation from one's spouse, an extramarital affair is still considered adultery.Adultery is...

  • Opportunism
    -General definition:Opportunism is the conscious policy and practice of taking selfish advantage of circumstances, with little regard for principles. Opportunist actions are expedient actions guided primarily by self-interested motives. The term can be applied to individuals, groups,...

  • Splitting (psychology)
    Splitting (psychology)
    Splitting may mean two things: splitting of the mind, and splitting of mental concepts . The latter is thinking purely in extremes Splitting (also called all-or-nothing thinking in cognitive distortion) may mean two things: splitting of the mind, and splitting of mental concepts (or black and...

  • Stab-in-the-back legend
  • Treason
    In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

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