I need a colloquial expression (not a term) that can be used when someone indirectly says something annoying to provoke someone standing next to them.

For example, me and Hannah fought angrily and stopped talking. The next day we met in a gathering. I was standing with someone else and Hannah was next to me, then I say something rude or malicious about Hannah to that person so that I provoke her, knowing that she is standing next to me.

  • There are many. Can you give more details about the context? Is the insult deliberate? Is it especially nasty or mean-spirited?
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 18:58
  • Are you talking about an expression to describe the person, what they said, the event itself, or what? Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 18:59
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    There's also needle, which will work in many contexts. But I'm not convinced there will be any single word (or even short expression) that unambiguously conveys that the way you wound her up / rattled her cage / needled her was by saying things to someone else in a "stage whisper" (i.e. - knowing that she would hear you too, as well as whoever you were apparently talking to). Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:43
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    @WillowRex I couldn't use 'we' at the beginning, but yes Hannah and I would have been more correct. Thanks for the remark Willow!
    – Sdilly
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:54
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    @Dana: In your exact context (where the person you're trying to provoke is within earshot, but you're not directly addressing them), it stands to reason you'll be referring to them in the third person (using she/her rather than you). If the situation were to be reversed (i.e. - she's talking about you), then a good way to assert yourself and express your annoyance would be Who's she - the cats mother? as covered by that closely-related ELU question which you might find interesting (sadly, it only works for women! :) Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


There are various phrases for this: "catty remark", "snide aspersion", "barbed remark", "subtle dig", etc. None of these indicate the other person is in earshot, but you can include that information in the sentence:

While talking to her friend, Dana snidely insulted Hanna's character, after making sure Hanna was close enough to overhear.

  • I think those are the closest to what I'm looking for. Thank you Andrew!
    – Sdilly
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:33
  • @Dana If I think of any better, I'll add them to my answer. I'm sure there's a better phrase, but as we say, "it's on the tip of my tongue..."
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:35
  • no problem, those could do! Till there's a better phrase :) thanks again
    – Sdilly
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:38

I don't think there's a colloquial expression that exactly captures the situation you described in the comments.

I understand that to be:

Person A is angry at Person B. Person A starts saying bad things about Person B to Person C, with the intention of provoking them.

The closest thing I can think of is that we'd call something like that

Passive-aggressive behavior

Whereby you are not directly attacking a person, but doing things to intentionally upset them. It covers a broad variety of behaviors, not just this. For example, if I were upset with a work colleague, and I ignore their requests for important work documents. I am not doing anything to them, but my passive behavior is aggressively hurting them.

So in your example, I would say that you were

"Being passive-aggressive to Hannah"

  • I'd hardly say passive-aggressive behavior is a "colloquial" usage. Per Wikipedia, it's the actual terminology used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:21
  • I didn't imply it was colloquial, and I think the first sentence of my post clearly pointed out I couldn't think of one that totally encompassed the situation. Therefore I came up with a word or phrase that I felt would most nearly do that. And it is a phrase that is in common use, that the average person would likely understand.
    – mstorkson
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:27
  • My apologies. Dunno how I failed to take in the first three words of your answer. I'll remove my slapdash downvote. Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:39
  • @FumbleFingers not at all, its fine.
    – mstorkson
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 19:45

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