It's something that you come up with in advance, a plan of sorts, in preparation of an opportunity arising, such that you may capitalize on it. "Plan" is too long, however; it's not so much a plan as a simple "we quickly do X". And emphasis on quick; this is a rapid, pre-meditated move - it was come up with quickly, triggered quickly, and executed quickly. The situation arose, the action done, and then it passed. It can have had lasting consequence, or done nothing at all. It may be proactive or reactive. Maybe you don't even know why or when you'd do it, but you've prepared for it nevertheless. The effect is simple and singular, not a complex series of events. Just one thing like "everybody wearing a hat run into the basement" - potentially independent of the context that prompts the execution. It may also have a modifying context, like "if it's raining, paint one car blue" - to carry out this while it isn't raining, obviously has no effect. So it's like an instruction of sorts, waiting to be given.

What word, preferably on the short side, would describe such a thing?

'Trick' is the best I've come up with, but it has connotations of deception. Need something more straightforward.

  • 1
    I'm not quite clear about the context you're describing. Mostly it seems you're talking about a situation involving some kind of "quick fix", which would normally be decided upon AND carried out quickly. Why do you make a specific point of saying you want to describe something like this that was specifically foreseen and planned for in advance? Are you specifically looking to describe "contingency plans" which have had very little thought put into them? – FumbleFingers Sep 10 '14 at 15:55
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, I am. These things are specifically planned in advance. They are... potential actions. "contingency plan" is quite descriptive, but far too verbose. – Core Xii Sep 10 '14 at 16:39
  • I think if you're looking for a generally-understood single-word term meaning contingency action which was in fact prepared in advance, but not so thoughtfully as to justify the word "plan", you're on a hiding to nothing. There are usages like "The US has a stop-gap plan for what to do if Baghdad falls to IS" - which strictly speaking only means the plan isn't a permanent solution, but I suppose by implication it wasn't given much thought. Even so, I'd still say that's a "plan" of sorts. – FumbleFingers Sep 10 '14 at 17:07

A play, perhaps? Or gambit?

As in, given a certain context, you might execute a play from a playbook, or employ a certain gambit.

Both fall somewhere between strategy and tactics, I'd say. Preplanned, but contingent on the situation. Rehearsed tactics, really.

And both are short (which, I gather from your comments, is what you're looking for). Of course, "play" is also a word with many different meanings, so it may confuse.

Scheme or ploy would be other possibilities, though both are often used when describing more nefarious trickery.

Strategem is a synonym for either of these, by the way.

  • I like 'ploy'; it's short and its connotations coincide with my greater context. – Core Xii Sep 10 '14 at 20:15

I suggest some terms I guess might fit your context:

A (smart) move

  • An action taken to achieve an objective;

a maneuver:

  • A strategic action undertaken to gain an end.

a stroke:

  • An inspired or effective idea or act: a stroke of genius.

Also the expression : nice one!!

  • something that you say when you have just heard that someone has done something which you think is good 'Graham's brought some champagne along to mark the occasion.' 'Oh, nice one, Graham!'

Source: www.thefreedictionary.com

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    'move' is too generic. 'maneuver' sounds really close; I'm definitely considering it. 'stroke' has too many horrific connotations :P – Core Xii Sep 10 '14 at 16:43

If the important part is that this is something you plan in advance and keep in reserve, then it's a contingency, which, to paraphrase Google, is "a provision for a future event or circumstance that is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty".

  • I agree it's highly descriptive. Unfortunately it's also quite long of a word. I'd prefer something shorter. – Core Xii Sep 10 '14 at 16:46

Long term plans are usually referred to as "strategies", which are usually contrasted with short term moves known as "tactics".

The Business Dictionary defines tactics, as sub-methods of strategies, as:

Tactics: Means by which a strategy is carried out; planned and ad hoc activities meant to deal with the demands of the moment, and to move from one milestone to other in pursuit of the overall goal(s).

For example, in an business enterprise, strategy is decided by the board of directors, and tactics by the department heads for implementation by the junior officers and employees.

  • 'tactic' is pretty good, though I'm wondering if it's still too long for my purposes. Long, as in, contains too much complexity. The word I'm looking for is more like to tactic what tactic is to strategy; something very tiny. – Core Xii Sep 10 '14 at 16:41
  • @CoreXii, then how do you feel about Josh61's move and maneuver? – Dan Bron Sep 10 '14 at 16:43

While they don’t include the notion of being planned, these words might be effectively combined with some of the adjectives that have been suggested:

  • response
  • reaction (I note that you used the word “reactive” in the question)

And here’s another adjective for your consideration: situational (I note that you used the word “situation” in the question).

  • I said "it may be proactive or reactive". Purely reactive terms do not cover the proactive side. – Core Xii Sep 10 '14 at 18:03

How about:


Meaning a plan, scheme, or trick.


Two options:

I'm not sure if this fits the context you have in mind, but your examples made me think of the word heuristic. A heuristic is used to make a quick decision in response to a situation.

However, "heuristic" is usually used to refer to something unconscious or subconscious. If you're talking about someone coming up with something in advance, I would call that a rule or a rule of thumb.

For example:

As a rule, if someone near me honks the horn I slam on my brakes, just in case.


As a rule, he ignored fire alarms. If there was a fire, he figured someone would send him a memo about it.

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