I've hit a wording problem in the controls for a game that I'm writing.

I need two nouns with increasing emphasis for someone highly skilled in a given area.
"Expert" is an obvious choice, so I need a second noun which is:

  • More emphatic than "Expert" - it must imply being extremely capable.
  • Not gendered. (This is why I've rejected the most obvious choice, "Master".)
  • Obvious in its meaning, once read.
  • Not too long - screen space is limited.
  • Carrying connotations of skill but not necessarily experience.
  • Applicable to many different areas of skill - professional skills (science, accounting) and personal (leadership, martial arts)

It is acceptable to use two words, so there could be a modifying adjective, but in that case space demands that they both be quite short. ("Very skilled" would just work, but "World-famous expert" is out.)

(Edited to make criteria clearer) If it matters, the setting is 60s to 80s Bond-movie-villain's lair.

Some characters are clones grown by a mad scientist and programmed for their tasks, so terms like "veteran" which imply experience as well as skill won't work.

Alternatively, I could use "Expert" in the top slot, to mean extreme skill... in which case I need a replacement word which is less emphatic than Expert, but carries the same connotations and matches the conditions above. It will still need to mean "more than average skill" - the default is "professional competence", and the two terms I use need to describe two increasing levels above this.

  • What are the other levels of expertise you're using? (referring to your last paragraph).
    – Neeku
    Jul 22, 2014 at 8:48
  • @Neeku: At the moment "Expert" is the only word I've settled on; I only need two levels total. Any character not described by one of the two terms I end up with has "standard professional competence, not worthy of comment".
    – Tynam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 9:29
  • 1
    Apologies for the digression but my personal take is that the term "master" is not as strongly gendered as you take it to be. There are often references to women who "master" something in the press.
    – user85837
    Jul 22, 2014 at 10:46
  • 3
    Maven ..... :)? Jul 22, 2014 at 20:59
  • 4
    Personally I don't think "Master" would be taken to mean male only as it is usually used in an adjectival form when used in gaming terminology, and when "master" is used in an adjectival form, it's usually the noun it is attached to that determines the gender i.e. 'master blacksmith', 'master swordswoman', 'master chess player'.
    – Pharap
    Jul 23, 2014 at 5:58

24 Answers 24


Have you considered using the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition? In particular, his ranking is:

  1. Novice
  2. Advanced beginner
  3. Competent
  4. Proficient
  5. Expert

Note that each level has a specific, quotable, empirically-driven definition that allows one to (more-or-less) unambiguously identify which category one belongs to.

That might be helpful if your application is a self-survey which is otherwise vulnerable to differences of interpretation: a standard model has the benefit of normalization (to a larger extent than, say, “on a scale of one to ten. . . .”).

That said, since perfect standardization is an impossible ideal, if you implement this, you might consider offering an "other" option.

Alternatively, the word specialist comes to mind.

  • No self-survey needed; this is a game, and characters are rated by the game rules. I just need terms to rate them as. +1, because "specialist" is a great suggestion.
    – Tynam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 15:07
  • +1. Competent, proficient and specialist are would all help offer additional gradations to the scale, although most of them would fall below expert (with the arguable exception of "specialist"). Jul 22, 2014 at 20:22
  • @ChrisSunami I think you're right, but "specialist" is (as you mentioned) arguable, because it feels like it should be used in just one area, as opposed to the other words which are read in a wider, more general way.
    – Shokhet
    Jul 24, 2014 at 13:59
  • I'm accepting this answer, even though I didn't use it in practice, because it's the best general suggestion for the question as written - we didn't use it only due to other factors.
    – Tynam
    Jul 31, 2014 at 20:52

The most obvious short word I can think of that could be seen as being a level ‘above’ expert would be guru, in the third sense given by Merriam-Webster in the link:

a person who has a lot of experience in or knowledge about a particular subject

  • 2
    Ooh, interesting suggestion which I hadn't considered. I'll try wording some of the rules briefings this way and see how it reads.
    – Tynam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 9:32
  • 6
    A lot of negative connotation around the word guru in my experience. I've only heard it used sarcastically to describe someone who is wiggling their way into a position they do not have the expertise to fill. Jul 22, 2014 at 14:47
  • 9
    @ClassicThunder That is quite the opposite of my experience of the word. I have never heard any such connotation implied—rather, the word almost has connotations of reverence in my experience. Jul 22, 2014 at 14:48
  • It also has connotations bleeding over from the first two senses. Jul 22, 2014 at 15:06
  • 1
    @Vadim Certainly—but those are positive connotations (and the reverence bit probably comes from the first sense), not negative ones. :-) Jul 22, 2014 at 15:10

Depending on what kind of flavor you’re going for, I have several possibilities that haven't yet been suggested.

First, as others have said, for me master doesn’t have the gendered feel to it that you describe. But given this opinion, there are of course other options.

For a term that could be used to describe someone more skilled than expert denotes, there’s virtuoso and also maven (although the latter may not have the right feel; I’d be unlikely to use it myself, to be honest).

If you’re looking for a word below expert, you could use adept to describe their skill level. As in a person is either average, an adept, or an expert.

Alternatively, skilled, accomplished, talented, proficient, or gifted.

  • 1
    +1 for Virtuoso. I agree that Maven is a bit too unknown, though I have seen it used once in a console game so it certainly has its place.
    – Pharap
    Jul 23, 2014 at 10:12
  • 2
    Virtuoso is more appropriate than the higher-voted answers Jul 23, 2014 at 21:32
  • 1
    I like Expert and Adept.
    – Metro
    Jul 25, 2014 at 15:23
  • If I were designing the game as the OP described, I'd probably go for Competent -> Adept -> Expert
    – Doc
    Jul 25, 2014 at 15:28

If the level being described is the ultimate attainable, perhaps the term paragon might suit

A person or thing regarded as a perfect example of a particular quality [ODO]

Similarly, you might consider apotheosis (although less often applied to an individual than to her accomplishments), paradigm, or epitome.

  • Blast. Paragon is perfect... except that I neglected to mention that most characters are extremely evil. Paragon carries a connotation of moral as well as professional excellence, so I'll have to let it go.
    – Tynam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 17:04
  • 4
    There are a not-insignificant number of instances of paragon of evil in literature.
    – bib
    Jul 22, 2014 at 17:36

Perhaps savant:

a learned person, especially a distinguished scientist.

In my experience, this word has connotations of almost supernatural expertise.

  • Are you citing from somewhere, or is that your own definition?
    – tchrist
    Jul 23, 2014 at 4:34

You can use ace. It’s even shorter than guru.

  • The slight difference in connotation between the two is that Guru tends to be also a wise teacher, while Ace may be a loner, not willing to share the gift.
    – SF.
    Jul 22, 2014 at 13:59
  • 5
    Yes. That's why I'm not recommending jedi
    – PA6OTA
    Jul 22, 2014 at 14:00
  • 2
    Ace also has connotations of showing off. Jul 22, 2014 at 15:05
  • The showing-off/loner connotations aren't major issues, so I'm considering this if something more neutral isn't suggested.
    – Tynam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 17:39

A prodigy is a person of extraordinary talent.


As a second word (noting that you are looking for two words), less "emphatic" than prodigy might be gifted.

having exceptionally high intelligence; revealing special talent

In my experience, gifted would be one rung lower than prodigy. A gifted individual is one who shows great potential for exceptional talent, whereas a prodigy actually possesses extraordinary talent.

  • Aha! This does the job perfectly. Better than expert, no extra connotations, short, and applies to a wide range of skills and fields. Writing this in to the game now; I'll accept this answer there isn't a more perfect one by the time I go live.
    – Tynam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 17:38
  • 1
    Prodigy also carries strong connotations of youth. Young + talented = prodigy. You might not want the "young" part for your game.
    – James
    Jul 22, 2014 at 18:16
  • @James: Most characters in the game are brain-programmed clones... so they're less than two weeks old. I can live with "youth". There's only one expert character who's older than two weeks... and she's the ingenue.
    – Tynam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 19:49
  • This may well be the best answer for OP's specific use, but it's clearly not the best answer for the question as written.
    – John Y
    Jul 22, 2014 at 21:46
  • @John Y: True. I walked an awkward line between adding enough detail to answer the question and digressing into massive explanation of the game; apparently I fell just shy of my target.
    – Tynam
    Jul 23, 2014 at 6:44

An authority; or, if you want to approach, but perhaps not cross, the guru line, an adept might do.

  • Well answered! Perhaps you could edit your answer to insert a definition of adept, and a reference (link or otherwise) to where you found the definition? That would improve the answer a lot. Jul 22, 2014 at 17:42
  • authority is a great answer.
    – Fattie
    Jul 23, 2014 at 15:33

One could use the word adept.

One definition supplied by Wiktionary is:

Well skilled; completely versed; thoroughly proficient

  • 2
    A little bit of corroboration via a dictionary would be nice. Adept (particularly when used as a noun, and particularly when meaning "the highest level of expertise") has a strong connotation of the occult, which may not always be desirable.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 23, 2014 at 6:04
  • Adept is also used in myriad games as an intermediate level.
    – TylerH
    Jul 23, 2014 at 13:17

I'd consider using the old trade guild hierarchy of:

  • Apprentice
  • Journeyman
  • Master
  • I'd thought of this, but it has the problem that comes from being old - it's far too strongly gendered. I won't room for context, and by themselves "Journeyman" and "Master" are both far too male.
    – Tynam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 15:09
  • 1
    @Tynam - Fair enough. I'd argue neither is really considered particularly gendered these days when used as a adjective, but they do both have that history.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 22, 2014 at 15:30
  • As an adjective they're not very gendered, but my question calls for a noun... which definitely is.
    – Tynam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 17:04

I'm going to suggest doyen. If you are a doyen, you are not only the most expert in that subject but also the most respected and the one who has been there the longest. Doyen would be the most knowledgeable in a group of experts also. So, it is obviously the ultimate level in a real world.

In the current vernacular, doyen is used as a gender-neutral word but there is also the feminine version doyenne.

There are also connoisseur and cognoscente (or cognoscenti) but they are usually used for people who has superior knowledge in fine arts and literature, and they are the authority in the field.

  • I think doyen falls prey to the gender issue, wikipedia lists its meaning as 'The senior, or eldest male member of a group.' (its other definitions are noted as colloquial and obsolete, so I am disregarding them).
    – Pharap
    Jul 23, 2014 at 10:05
  • 1
    @Pharap: There are contemporary usages that is used for both genders.
    – ermanen
    Jul 23, 2014 at 13:46

In a well-known rock opera, Tommy was a pinball wizard. I feel that he would beat a mere pinball guru.

Then I searched for “wizard level of expertise” since I should show some sort of source here, and found some evidence at a site named Wizards of Gyan that apparently software people use sentences like

To build awesome software, we need awesome people (our wizards).


We think each of these competency areas have 5 stages of expertise. These stages are awareness, discerning, mastering, coaching and wizardry.

But then they would, or they wouldn't have called themselves wizardsofgyan.com.

Anyway, in software development I think this is the right answer. I don’t know if other sectors regularly use wizard in this way, but for a computer game it should be fine.

  • A concern for the use of wizard to me is that the game might have a wizard class which could cause confusion. Even if it didn't, wizards are common enough in games that the term could still cause confusion.
    – Doc
    Jul 22, 2014 at 21:16
  • 1
    I thought of this too, but given that this is for a game, I think the definition as "magic user" would overshadow the intended meaning. Jul 22, 2014 at 21:20
  • 1
    As of the update to the question it is apparent that the term wizard would be unlikely clash with anything in game. However it doesn't quite fit the theme.
    – Pharap
    Jul 23, 2014 at 9:56
  • Also, A funny Pepsi commercial always helps improve a source's validity.
    – Pharap
    Jul 23, 2014 at 10:02

When talking strictly about knowledge rather than practical skill, authority would seem the right term, because it implies that the person’s level of expertise is not only very high but also widely recognised as such.


You could try veteran as well. From Google:

a person who has had long experience in a particular field.

Other sources:

I'm not sure if I'd consider that below or above expert, though.

  • 2
    I’m sorry, but “from Google” is not a valid reference. Please see these guidelines on how to properly cite something.
    – tchrist
    Jul 23, 2014 at 4:46
  • Fair enough. Here is my Google source as well as three reputable dictionaries that agree with my definition. Google, Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster, OxfordDictionaries.com. Regardless, is a downvote really the right way to go? The word I suggested is a valid suggestion. Jul 23, 2014 at 14:14

The word sensei popped into my head when I read this as did guru. While the literal translation of sensei means "born before", the cultural connotations for my martial arts friends is their senseis were a master or teacher for their chosen art, which seems to work for your game.

However, reading up on it a bit more, the term "dai-sensei" came up which refers to the top sensei in a given system. Perhaps that may work?

  • You don't have to couch this by saying it has "cultural connotations". For all intents and purposes, this is simply the Japanese word for master, and by now I think it's well-enough understood in English, so it does serve as an answer to the question.
    – John Y
    Jul 22, 2014 at 22:15
  • If you're going to bring in 'Sensei', I recommend you also mention 'Senpai'. It may not be as well known, but it is highly applicable nonetheless en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senpai.
    – Pharap
    Jul 23, 2014 at 10:09
  • After reading your link, I think 'senpai' may be an appropriate word for someone of higher rank (than their kōhai) who assists the sensei (who's a higher rank yet). Were you suggesting it as the upper ranking individual the OP asked for?
    – delliottg
    Jul 23, 2014 at 14:27
  • 2
    @tchrist I wasn't aware there were rules regarding style on Stack Exchange? If there are, a cursory look didn't reveal them. I make no claims regarding my typography or scholarly abilities. If you don't like my style or resultant typography please feel free to down vote rather than edit or comment. I see that at least one person has. If there are rules that I've bent or broken, please point them out to me, otherwise, please go moderate someone else's posts.
    – delliottg
    Jul 23, 2014 at 18:12
  • From total ignorance: is sensei gendered in Japanese? Jul 23, 2014 at 20:50

Since no one has yet offered it, I will throw genius into the ring:


From Merriam-Webster:

: a very smart or talented person : a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable

From TheFreeDictionary.com:

1b. A person of extraordinary intellect and talent (American Heritage Dictionary)

1. a person with exceptional ability, esp of a highly original kind (Collins)

1. an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, esp. as shown in creative and original work in science, art, music, etc.: the genius of Mozart.
2. a person having such capacity. (Random House)

Words that keep coming up in definitions and descriptions of genius include extraordinary, exceptional, transcendent, remarkable, and rare. I'd say this fits the bill nicely. It doesn't imply a gender or an age (though it's usually clear pretty early when someone's a genius), and it implies something very special and innate that is more than just what can be gained from experience.




(informal) Someone who is remarkably skilled at something.


Informal. a person who is quite good at a particular activity, in a certain field, etc.: She's a whiz at math.

dab hand


(UK) An expert; a very skilled person.


  1. a person skilled in something; an expert.
  2. an excellent or extraordinary person or thing.

Perhaps Specialist?


spe·cial·ist noun \ˈspe-sh(ə-)list\ : a person who has special knowledge and skill relating to a particular job, area of study, etc.

: a doctor who deals with health problems that relate to a specific area of medicine

: a rank in the U.S. Army that is above the rank of private and below the rank of corporal



As it appears what you are asking for is a way to classify the clones, I would suggest terms more akin to:

  • Professional - "A person who earns his living from a specified activity"
  • Apprentice - "A trainee, especially in a skilled trade"
  • Peon - "A lowly person, a peasant or serf, a labourer who is obliged to do menial work"
  • Serf - "(strategy games) A worker unit"

Lower skill level:

  • Rookie - "A novice."
  • Newcomer - "One who has recently come to a community; a recent arrival." (A nice way of saying 'noob').
  • Novice - "A beginner; one who is not very familiar or experienced in a particular subject."

Higher skill level:

  • Veteran - "A person with long experience of a particular activity"

All definitions taken from wiktionary.

  • All good answers to the question I wrote... which unfortunately prove that I didn't write it well enough. Editing and adding explanation.
    – Tynam
    Jul 23, 2014 at 6:47
  • Thanks for your edit. I'm not trying to classify the clones so much as their skill levels, in a way that I can also use for the non-clone characters. Anybody less skilled than "professional" simply doesn't have the skill at all, so I only need terms for those who are better than mere professional competence.
    – Tynam
    Jul 23, 2014 at 10:59

You are probably looking for

leading expert,

authority, (vote up Jebediah, above)


industry figure.

Note that "world-famous expert" or perhaps "world-renowned expert" are also good, but perhaps a bit stagey.


A top-ranked opponent can be called champion, which carries both the notion of a combatant for a cause and of undefeated. It also combines with a second word (for example, world champion) in case you wanted to draw finer distinctions.


Divinity has been used in the context of games (for a leader rather than an expert). You may also choose a particular name depending on the type of game you're developing, if it is rather on fine skill an artist or maestro may be appropriate, although maestro is originally gendered.


Perhaps Adroit

  1. expert or nimble in the use of the hands or body.
  2. cleverly skillful, resourceful, or ingenious: an adroit debater.

While the first definition implies physical skill, the second shows that it is also used of other types of skill. It does not have any connotation of experience, but purely to skill itself used in a way better than most. The word could probably be used as either a level above or below expert, depending upon how you wanted to spin it.

Of course, for your game purposes, if this term were used you would effectively be making this adjective into a noun by such a use (you stated you were seeking a noun in your question). They would be termed "adroits" or individually, "an adroit," but the context could probably pull off the substantive use of the adjective for this purpose.


I quite like the term Arbiter for describing someone at the absolute top of the chain of command.

Particularly the description ultimate authority in a matter.

It may not work for everything, but it's another interesting option.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.