Example sentence:

Dying your hair pink is a __ in secondary school.

I thought of words like "offense" and "misdeed," but they don't ring quite right.

  • 20
    Is this against the rules or just a social issue? Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:44
  • 18
    The question title and body text don't match. A crime is something that is illegal, an offence (the word I was thinking of before reading the full question) is also illegal but not as serious. In a school environment, no school rules are laws, so breaking one is not illegal, although there will most likely be consequences such as being sent home, suspended, or expelled, depending on the seriousness. The question could be clarified because we don't know exactly what sense you want. Do you mean "What is a bad action called that is not illegal?" "A word for breaking the rules?", etc.?
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 2:08
  • 1
    Do you really need a noun? In everyday speech, it would be most common to say something like: Dying your hair pink is against the rules/not allowed in secondary school. Nouns to classify "against-the-rules" acts only really show up in very formal situations (like the actual school rulebook).
    – 1006a
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 3:51
  • Would purple be okay?
    – Yates
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 8:53
  • I usually hear that something like that is an infraction of the rules.
    – Ron Maupin
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 16:05

14 Answers 14


It depends on the context. If you are talking about any kind of official disciplinary system with rules and punishments, then any of these may work: infraction, violation, transgression, breach, contravention and various others. In this case, for example:

Dying your hair pink is a serious transgression of school policy.

You can also say the action itself is banned, restricted, prohibited, forbidden, barred, or simply not allowed.

Dying your hair pink is against school policy.

If instead you are talking about something that goes against social or moral norms, you could use (with varying degrees of severity): taboo, anathema, frowned on, proscribed, off limits, no-no, unmentionable, abomination, faux pas and others:

Smoking in restaurants, which once was common practice, is now practically a hanging offense in many parts of the United States.

(edit) These terms cover a wide range of severity. As mentioned in the comments, "transgression" is pretty serious, while "against the rules" is fairly mild. Please provide more details about how "bad" you want it to sound, and I can be more specific.

  • 4
    "Transgression" sounds somehow worse than "crime" to me...
    – user428517
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:33
  • 6
    @ell I agree that it sounds serious, but it's not criminal. You can also temper it in various ways, e.g. a minor transgression
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:55
  • 10
    My school used the term "infraction" Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 5:02
  • 5
    Violation is the most common in the US. For school you have dress code violations, student code of conduct violations etc. In all of the schools my kids have been to the handbook references them as such. Breaking a law or regulation that is not a crime such as speeding is a moving violation. Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 15:47
  • 2
    @MartinBonner noted, but the example specifies the United States, and it's also a deliberate *hyperbole*(merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperbole).
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 16:50

Infraction could work here. An infraction can refer to a crime but it is a very minor one that would generally only result in a fine.

  • Perhaps you mean infraction of a school rule.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 18:07
  • Given the question and the body, this seems the best answer, but, at least in the US, there are several layers of legal issues. For example, breaking a rule may mean you broke a policy or that you broke a law. Both could get you into legal trouble.
    – coteyr
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 17:01
  • @coteyr I think it was clear from the question that "breaking a rule" wasn't meant in complete isolation, but as "breaking [only] a rule". Obviously, breaking a rule which happens to line up with a law is also breaking the law, and therefore not 'less serious than a "crime"'.
    – anon
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 17:35
  • But that's my point. Ever get a parking ticket at a University. You broke a rule, but not a law. Ever park in the wrong spot at high school and have that thing put on your tire. You broke a school policy, not a law. The law allows them to make up such policies, but even though there may be legal issues laws are not broken. See also OSHA, for a federal example of things like that. Even the minimum working age on family farms is not set in law but policy. You can break a policy and need a lawyer, you can break a law and need a lawyer. Especially the question title leaves that open...
    – coteyr
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 18:00
  • 1
    "Infractions, sometimes known as regulatory offenses, are the least serious class of crime in the criminal law system of the United States."
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 23:22

If it's not actually breaking any rules but is simply a social "miscue," it would be considered a faux pas:



  • Long, hot soaks in winter are a classic faux pas, since exposure to extreme heat after having been in the cold can cause small visible blood vessels to appear at the skin's surface. —Elle

especially : a social blunder

  • . . . when I sauntered into the main dining room for my first breakfast, I realized I was the only person showing his legs. Careless faux pas, or was I being overly sensitive to the local culture? —David Swanson

  • Campaigning last year seemed to convince her that she can venture out alone without making costly faux pas. —Time Magazine

  • It was not until I'd covered about fifty kilometers that I committed my most terrible social faux pas yet: I overtook another cyclist. —Polly Evans

Arriving too early would be a serious faux pas.
according to an oft-told story, the queen set a guest at ease about a faux pas by politely imitating it

  • 2
    Note to English learners: even though faux pas looks like French and is pronounced in the French way, it is perfectly acceptable to casually incorporate it into any English speech, whether formal or informal. Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 20:16
  • 1
    That said, faux pas is used to describe things that are embarrassing or that are otherwise social missteps -- pink hair for a high schooler wouldn't have fallen into that category when I was in high school, as crazy hair colors were quite popular among my peers
    – Sparksbet
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 20:45
  • 1
    I wouldn't use faux pas for something done in the full knowledge that it is against the rules or social expectations. With a faux pas, you don't aim for the negative reactions but rather find out too late that your actions lead to such reactions.
    – helm
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 11:05

If it's not really against the rules, or even if it is but it's not something that would get you expelled, you could just call it a

no no

which kind of implies it's socially unacceptable [even if only to the teachers, not the pupils.]

As to 'talking down' as mentioned in comments [which i really don't understand], if someone were to say, "Can I bring my dog in the shop? He won't be any nuisance." then the answer could easily be, "I'm sorry, that's a no no. I'm afraid we don't allow it, except guide dogs."
If you did, I doubt anyone would call the police. I doubt it's even actually illegal, but it's certainly socially unacceptable.

'Violation' isn't used for anything so minor in the UK, it sounds a bit like you'd be in handcuffs for it.
"Violation of human rights" or other similar legalese, would be a predominant use for it in the UK.
Violations are committed against you, not by you.

  • 5
    This is OK for children of preschool age; after that, it will often be perceived as "talking down" to the target, and demeaning. If you tell me that crossing against the light is a "no no", I'm going to think you're a bit of an «crude characterisation omitted». Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 17:04
  • 10
    @JeffZeitlin - I disagree with your assessment, and your crude characterization, too. While it may have an informal feel with childish overtones, it still gets borrowed in the adult world. Precedents abound, e.g., Using the same password for multiple accounts, sharing passwords, keeping sticky notes on your monitor with login information, or just having a weak password in general are big no-no’s when it comes to cyber security.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:55
  • 6
    +1 a no-no fits well into OP's scenario.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:00
  • 16
    Indeed, my only nitpick (which I'm not even sure is valid) is that I would expect it to be hyphenated (no-no) rather than open (no no).
    – Hellion
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:02
  • 1
    "no-no" (hyphenated), due to it being derived from "baby talk", has a strong connotative nuance that I would be careful of in context here. @J.R. 's citation, for example, is intentionally using it to cast a highly informal and simplistic tone in an effort to make the topic in question seem more accessible/simplistic, but it can easily read as either excessively juvenile or excessively condescending (to the point of being crass if not clearly tongue in cheek) depending on specific usage. Inappropriate to use if the speaker is in at all a formal context, short of Jeff's "preschooler" example.
    – taswyn
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 18:01


A minor wrongdoing.
"The player can expect a lengthy suspension for his latest misdemeanor"

A misdemeanor is against written rules, but not quite bad enough to be a crime.

  • 28
    A misdemeanor is a crime. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:43
  • 3
    @JamieClinton There is a figurative sense of "minor wrongdoing" though...
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:53
  • 7
    I thought of "misdemeanor" too when I read the question title, but the question body asks for a different word, many of which have been given in other answers already.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:00
  • 20
    In the US a misdemeanour is a crime, but in the UK crimes are no longer classified in this way and the word can be used to mean any minor wrongdoing as stated in this answer. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:03
  • 3
    Be aware if you're going to choose this word that it's spelt differently in USA from everywhere else. Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 4:38

In many areas of the United States, this will be characterised as a violation. Often, what it is a violation of will be specified; for example, dyeing one’s hair pink is often a violation of the school dress code; dropping trash on the street is a violation of sanitation regulations, and so on.

  • This only works, though, if there is some written code prohibiting the behavior. In the OP's scenario, for example, if there is no school dress code that specifies "no pink or green hair," then "violation" isn't so apropos.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:04
  • The single word "violation" doesn't fit in the OP's sentence. You always need to say "violation of the rules" or similar.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:04
  • 1
    I think this answer is at least as good as my suggestion: infraction. They are basically synonyms. People say things like "that's a violation" 'of the rules' is implicit. It doesn't sound right in this specific sentence for reasons I can't explain but still helpful.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:30
  • One can hardly read through this chapter of answers without wondering whether they might be useful to the Vatican in consigning sinners to suitable periods in purgatory or the appropriate circle of hell. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 22:19
  • @J.R. The OP, when you include the title, actually says it is against the rules. There thus is a written code that is being violated.
    – trlkly
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 11:04

peccadillo Plural: peccadillos (seems to be preferred by some) or peccadilloes

Merriam Webster definition: a slight offense

Slang: a no-no

A few examples from the press:

Payback Pecadillos + The New York Times

Hanging It Out in Public: Papandreou's peccadilloes
Papandreou's peccadilloes may bring his downfall
Time Magazine

The British [establishment] needs to give more power to the provinces and reduce the power of London in its economy and polity. It also needs to address the concerns of the left-behind as a matter of priority rather than luxuriating in the peccadilloes of the cosmopolitan elite.
The Economist

Pirsig’s references to the peculiarities, peccadilloes, and power of the university are frequent and unmistakable.
The Los Angeles Times Review of Books

  • 2
    You know, I have known the word since I was a child. I am a fluent Spanish speaker and only just realized that pecadillo (only one c) means a little sin. Funny how these things work.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:07
  • 4
    -1 for peccadillo. I've never heard this in my life, as a native English speaker. It's definitely not common, and probably not a good choice here.
    – user428517
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:33
  • 6
    @ell: Your limited vocabulary shouldn't be grounds for downvoting. +1 to counter.
    – kjhughes
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:03
  • @ell What's a body to say? :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:07
  • 2
    @kjhughes - I'm not normally in favor of "countervoting," but you sure picked a good place to exercise your right to do so. (I'm even less in favor of downvoting for the favor of enlightenment. In my experience here, most learners appreciate learning new words, even if they happen to be relatively obscure or quaint.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:13

If it is not strictly against the rules, but a silly thing to do that's generally frowned upon, I would probably use the word indiscretion.

From the ODE:

/ɪndɪˈskrɛʃ(ə)n/, noun
Behaviour or speech that is indiscreet or displays a lack of good judgement.

  • 2
    Or, since it's not mentioned anywhere else here, simply "frowned upon" itself!
    – GetHacked
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 13:36

Having read all the comments above, I have a sense that we have gone overboard in synonyms for rule-breaking. At risk of being accused of British understatement, ~I would say "Dyeing your hair pink is an error in secondary school".

Please note the spelling of "dyeing"

  • The wrong thing to do, yes. But an error? Hmm.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 13:17

Dyeing your hair pink _________ in secondary school.

● The suggested answers to this question:

  1. is a minor infringement
  2. is a minor infraction
  3. is an act of juvenile delinquency
  4. is not (officially) allowed
  5. is a no-no
  6. is a breach/transgression
  7. is a serious breach / transgression (as Andrew said)

● We can also use these sentences in order to deliver the order:

  1. Several of the girls were dying their hair pink, in contravention of the school rules on dress and makeup .

  2. Dyeing your hair pink is strictly prohibited inside the school.

  • 4
    Also, infringement was the first word I thought of when I saw this question, and this is the only answer to mention it.
    – flith
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 5:17

One correct word is just
wrong (AHD)

4. Not fitting or suitable; inappropriate or improper: said the wrong thing.
5. Not in accord with established usage, method, or procedure: the wrong way to shuck clams.

"Dying your hair pink is wrong in secondary school."

In the sense, "it's not the done thing;" "it's against the convention."

Any of the above alternatives may also work: not in accord with established usage, not fitting, inappropriate, improper.


If it's against the rules of the school:

violation of school rules

If it's a forbidden by social customs:



Well I like a long list and here's mine (I think it's interesting to consider who the speaker might be describing this act with varying degrees of disapprobation, it could be a peer, a tutor, a stern head of school, a parent, a sibling, a sibling, a priest, even a lawyer):

sin, misdemeanour, offence, crime, peccadillo, violation, infraction, transgression, error, lapse, fault, infringement, disgrace, outrage, slip, indiscretion, wrongdoing.

  • 1
    I think this answer would be more helpful to a learner if you provided a short synopsis of when each might be especially fitting or appropriate. I think you make an excellent point about who is doing the talking. A parent wouldn't necessarily talk about pink hair the same way a school official might.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 19:44

Crimes are generally separated into two distinct levels depending on the seriousness of the offense. These levels are Felonies and Misdemeanors. Both levels are broken down further into different classes. For example, a misdemeanor can be of class 1, 2, or 3, where class 3 is the least serious. There are minimum and maximum penalties for each class of felony and misdemeanor. These min and max guidelines are intended to guide judges in their ruling and hopefully provide some semblance of evenly distributed justice within a society.

The most minor offense may be called a summary offense. This includes minor infractions such as loitering and small value retail theft. A conviction of a summary offense usually results in a fine.

The punishment for being convicted of a felony or misdemeanor will vary. Conviction of a misdemeanor usually results in a fine. However, other factors like the seriousness of the crime or a history of previous offenses may increase the punishment. Additional punishment may include community service, house arrest, a work release program, jail time, and of course, more fines. It is also common to lose privileges such as a driver's license. This is especially true for offenses involving drugs and alcohol.

An act that is not illegal but is "against the rules" or "frowned upon" could be considered a wrongdoing or violation. This depends on the nature of the circumstances surrounding the action. For example, feeding the ducks at a pond where signage prohibiting this action is clearly posted may result in your immediate removal from the area or even a costly fine. There may not be any penal code prohibiting such action but if the locality has decided to enforce this rule then your violation may result in punishment.

  • If you're going to get into the legal terms, shouldn't you mention "criminal offense" versus "civil offense"?
    – Wildcard
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 8:30
  • 1
    Warning: This answer is US-centric. In the UK or Ireland the words "felony" and "misdemeanour" are not used (or at least not in this way). Reference: wikipedia. My very brief research doesn't extend to other English speaking countries.
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 14:32
  • @Wildcard, Yes - you are correct. I should mention what a tort is and how it fits into the OP's question but I don't like this thread I'm getting downvoted for trying to be helpful. - It is based on the US legal system, which varies from state to state Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 19:28
  • 1
    I didn't downvote, but I would guess the downvotes are because your answer is not targeted to the particular purpose of this site, which is to help English language learners (not lawyers). You should read the tour page because this isn't a traditional forum, and these aren't traditional "threads."
    – Wildcard
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 19:33

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