I've been looking for other words to describe a pre-selected option that can be changed by the user but must have a value. Everyone uses the word "default" to describe that, but in searching for synonyms I always get a list of synonyms related to the legal definition--a failure to meet an obligation.

I don't like the word default because computer people use it everywhere. Are there any good alternatives?

Edit: Removing single-word-requests tag

After considering some of the answers here, I've concluded that a single-word answer may not be possible. I'm removing the tag. I'm still interested in other synonymous phrases, but the answers so far are probably good enough. I will still wait to award a bounty and accept an answer at the end of the bounty period.

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about naming variables, which is explicitly listed as off-topic in the FAQ.
    – Hellion
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 19:52
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    @Hellion the fact that I could not find a good list of synonyms was the motivation for the question. This question is not about variable names; it is about synonyms. Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 19:56
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    If commonly-available references are deficient on the subject, is the question off-topic? Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 15:29
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    For what it's worth, the "commonly-available references" that supposedly answer this question didn't for me. They all assumed it was some sort of bank default, or similar term. Thesaurus.com and marriam-webster didn't have anything related to this use.
    – S. Buda
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 20:58
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    It is a real shame this question was closed for three reasons: 1) Online thesauruses have the inadequacies detailed above 2) In many programming languages default is a reserved key word 3) Who cares why someone needs a synonym? Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 13:25

9 Answers 9


a pre-selected option that can be changed by the user but must have a value

pre-selected or pre-selected value

pre-filled value or field

starter value

initial value

back-up value

assumed value (or assumption) (I like this one a lot)

given value

sample value

base value

fall-back [condition]

I am not going to provide dictionary definitions for these because they are obvious; I have to give you a lot of options to choose from because of the lack of a sample sentence for us to work with.


Without a sentence showing how you intend to use the word, answering the question is perhaps more difficult than it would otherwise be. We'll see.

Two words spring to mind. They each have their points, and, as with all word choices out of context, their disappoints.

First, the candidate I've seen in the computing context you've described:

pre-set, n.
A control that is adjusted beforehand (either during manufacture or by the user) to a particular setting...

My memory insists the term is more common in the closed form, without the hyphen, nowadays. It should also be noted that I put my thumb on the scales by omitting the especially part:

..., esp. on electronic musical instruments and audio and video equipment.

["pre-set, n.". OED Online. December 2016. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/247298?rskey=PdXsd5&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed December 17, 2016).]

For a pedant from my heyday, when hi-fidelity was very much the thing, the use with reference to audio equipment and musical instruments is more familiar than its somewhat different use lately, as represented by the earlier, notso special gloss.

A derivative term may suit your context better:

presetting, n.
...a setting made beforehand, a pre-existing setting or value.

op. cit.

In this case, my thumbling ellipsis conceals nothing of importance, only another facet of observed lexical use:

The action of setting or adjusting something beforehand;....

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    +1 Preset is the word I thought of and came here to suggest—along with original, which might work in situations where the writer wants a replacement word for default but preset seems a bit awkward. In situations where two-word descriptions are acceptable, I would use "original settings" rather than "preset settings" as an alternative to "default settings," for example.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 16:43
  • +1 As I write in my answer, there is no exact replacement for the computing-specific term, and preset comes the closest.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 19:05

The word default, as used in computing, originally had the same meaning as the word used in law, and is still often used this way, especially the verb form. This fact can be used to give a definitive answer to your question.

Default: primary meaning

In both settings, default (n.) means a fault or failure, generally a failure of inaction, and default (v.) means to fail in such a way.¹ Thus, in law, to default (such as on a loan) means to fail to act properly (by not paying on the loan).² But equally, in computing, the word is used when the operator fails to take action that is necessary for the computation. Thus, in computing, to default (such as on a required input) means to fail to act properly (by not providing the required value).³

Default: computing-specific idiom, and a timeline

In computing, when the operator defaults, the programmer might choose to detect the failure and recover by continuing the computation, supplying a preprogrammed input. Because this input is only used when the operator defaults, it has come to be called the default input.

  • Mid 1960s – Noun phrases such as default input, default value, and default parameter appeared frequently in print for the first time. They mean the preprogrammed value used when the operator fails (defaults) on supplying a value.
  • Mid 1970s – The single word default (n.) appeared frequently in print, an idiomatic shortening that means the same thing as default value.
  • Late 1970s – The set phrase take the default (to default knowing the preprogrammed default value will be supplied) first appeared in print.

(The search tool I used to develop this timeline is the Google Ngram Viewer.)

So now, in computing, we still have the original term default, especially the verb form, and we also have this new term, the idiomatic shortening of default value to simply default.


From this we get the correct answer to your question. You asked whether there are any single-word alternatives to the idiomatic term default. The answer is no, there are none which also carry the original connotation of a failure to provide a value. The history of this term is unique.

JEL’s answer, preset, is closest to what you are searching for. It has no connotation of a failure to provide a value, but it has gone through the same evolutionary process. As with default, noun phrases such as preset value or preset magnitude have been idiomatically shortened to the single word preset.

There are, as other answers point out, various noun phrases such as initial value or pre-selected value, but none of these have been shortened idiomatically to a single word.

  • Very nice (and compactly reported) research, MetaEd. Thanks for looking into the origins of this term in the context of computing.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 18:43
  • It is interesting that the computer-related use of this word is pretty far off the mark from the original definition. I'd never really thought about the original definition when dealing with this term.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 22:51

Considering that you have already mentioned “pre-selected”, hence you probably do not want to use that either. Instead, you could, depending upon their suitability, use one of the following:

System-selected value

a value that has been pre-selected by the system for the user either to provide a hint or, based on information that they already have about that user, as the most suitable option.

Suggested Value.

Suggest:   To mention an idea, possible plan, or action for other people to consider.  
(Cambridge Dictionary Online)

Recommended Value

Recommend:   to suggest that an item or person would be good or suitable for a particular purpose or job.  (Cambridge Dictionary Online)

Concerning the aforementioned couple of words, in your case, using any one of them would essentially mean that you would like to suggest the default value to the user as the most suitable for that particular purpose. In case of online services which have a pricing plan, such plans these days invariably rely on one of the following: “Recommended For You”, or “Suggested For You”, or even “The Best Value”.


Interesting question.

Note that while the word preset is certainly usable in your situation, it has other meanings in electronics (Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014) {http://www.thefreedictionary.com/preset}

Verb: (Electronics) to set (a timing device) so that something begins to operate at the time specified.

Noun: (Electronics) electronics a control, such as a variable resistor, that is not as accessible as the main controls and is used to set initial conditions

The word preset also doesn't imply that a value must exist.

Because there are no words which act as perfect synonym for default (because an exhaustive search yields no results for a word meeting the three conditions: indicative of having been fixed initially; can be changed by user; value must exist), you might want to try some hyphenated words/phrases. Some include:

  • Pre-selected option
  • Predetermined variable (a bit off from what you're probably hoping to use)
  • A field's Base value

One might use the term "base" in a similar fashion.


I'm assuming you are asking for the right words that have the same meaning as "Default" so you can go for the following:

  1. usual
  2. typical
  3. regular

Informal Adjective, Vanilla

Oxford Online

Having no special or extra features; ordinary or standard: ‘choosing plain vanilla technology wherever you can will save you money’

Going to add I am a game developer and have been a gamer over 25 years and this is what we use. And have always used. "Hey dude, is that vanilla half life"?

It is also common in the media when selling advertising packages to use the term Vanilla. "We'll take the vanilla package".

Another example is when you go to a gentlemans club. "How much for plain old vanilla?"


How about original manufacturer settings or simply manufacturer settings?


A factory reset, also known as master reset, is a software restore of an electronic device to its original system state by erasing all of the information stored on the device in an attempt to restore the device's software to its original manufacturer settings. [emphasis added]

The original system state corresponds to the complete set of default settings.

Factory settings means the same thing as original manufacturer settings.

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