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This is a task that'll bring you back a great profit if successful but may also end you up with heavy loss even your life. I have been thinking whether there is one word or a phrase or some self invented compound word to substitute for the long attributive clause.

I have found a sentence:

The cave that you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.

So how about : This is a treasure-holding-but-you-fear-to-enter-cave task ??

  • Boom or Bust would be a phrase I've heard used in board gaming strategy discussions. – xorsyst Oct 30 '14 at 14:22
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    why not just plan ol' "risky"? – QuestionMarcs Oct 30 '14 at 15:29

12 Answers 12

61

As one commenter noted:

high-risk, maybe combined with high-reward

Therefore, I am surprised that no one has mentioned "high-stakes". From e.g. here:

a situation that has a lot of risk and in which someone is likely to either get or lose an advantage

  • High-stakes was the first thing that came to mind for me. – Joel Anair Oct 27 '14 at 16:49
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    Following that metaphor, "all in" describes a gambler who is putting everything on a single bet, win or lose. – Blazemonger Oct 28 '14 at 14:44
  • As does "all or nothing". – RBarryYoung Oct 28 '14 at 15:02
  • But "high stakes" focusses on the cost of playing/taking part. It does not always follow that the potential reward is high. For example the game of "motorway chicken" (yes, really!) is a high-stakes game, but winning is not "highly profitable" - which is one criteria of the question. – steveOw Oct 30 '14 at 1:59
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    @Almo. Ha! Yes of course you are right! I would change it. But I can't edit an old comment. The shame will endure. – steveOw Oct 30 '14 at 14:51
32

Generally the expression 'high risk, high reward' is used to express the concept, especially in financial business.

  • Risk capital refers to funds used for high-risk, high-reward investments such as junior mining or emerging biotechnology stocks. Such capital can either earn spectacular returns over a period of time, or may dwindle to a fraction of the initial amount invested if several ventures prove unsuccessful. ( from Investopedia).
  • This can be expressed more succinctly. In the venture community, an opportunity is often said to be "High Risk/Reward". – wirewalker Oct 27 '14 at 18:45
  • In my experience, "high risk, high reward" has strong connotations associated with video games. I would be surprised to see it in a semi-formal discussion of anything besides games. If the phrase does show up in the business world, though, this may be just my personal opinion. – Kevin Oct 29 '14 at 21:23
  • @Kevin - It is a very common expression in financial business as shown in the extract posted. I am not surprised that it is so popular also in video games. – user66974 Oct 29 '14 at 21:29
15

I'm a bit late to the game here, but I would suggest make-or-break to describe a big risk with, potentially, a big reward.

From Merriam-Webster

Make-or-break - resulting in either definite success or definite failure

For example, "This latest money-making venture is make-or-break for me."

  • I'd say the connotation of "make-or-break" is usually somewhat involuntary. – AmagicalFishy Oct 28 '14 at 20:49
7

A chess-player would refer to it as a gambit.

From Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: gam·bit

Pronunciation: \ˈgam-bət\

Function: noun

Etymology: Italian gambetto, literally, act of tripping someone, from gamba leg, from Late Latin gamba, camba, from Greek kampē bend; probably akin to Gothic hamfs maimed, Lithuanian kampas corner

Date: 1656

  1. a chess opening in which a player risks one or more pawns or a minor piece to gain an advantage in position
  2. a (1) : a remark intended to start a conversation or make a telling point (2) : topic

    b : a calculated move : stratagem

  • 4
    Couple administrative notes and one comment on your answer: (a) If you include material from external references, you have to cite them by name (this time, I did it for you), and (b) you are encouraged to only include the material relevant to your answer, rather than copying the entire dictionary entry (which will both make your answer more pointed and concise, and protect the SE site from charges of violating fair use; in other words, it's just good form). In terms of your answer: I would not call a gambit a big bet (note MW says you risk pawns or a minor piece). – Dan Bron Oct 27 '14 at 14:46
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    A gambit is something else: that's a trade-off giving up a material advantage in exchange for a more ephemeral positional advantage. In effect, most marketing campaigns are like that: the money spent is a sure loss and the brand value increase is not a bankable properyt. – MSalters Oct 27 '14 at 15:05
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    @Dan Bron \\ As regards (a) and (b), I take your point. As regards your criticism of my touting of the word gambit, I respectfully disagree: Even a queen can be at stake in a gambit, contrary to what was stated in the M-WOL definition. In the reckoning of the wood-pusher, whether a game is won or lost is all-important; if the loss of "pawns or a minor piece" affects that outcome, then it is as important as if a queen were lost. – Senex Ægypti Parvi Oct 27 '14 at 16:24
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    @SenexÆgyptiParvi: I've played, studied, and followed chess since I was a teenager, and I disagree that a (reasonably knowledgeable) chess player would refer to what OP is describing as a gambit. In chess terms, a gambit is almost exclusively a small material offering, for a commensurately modest gain in tempo or position. Further, at anything above beginner-level play, it is almost never critical for either side whether the gambit is accepted or declined. So it really doesn't meet the all-or-nothing, high-stakes nature required by the question. – John Y Oct 30 '14 at 18:31
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    @SenexÆgyptiParvi: Also, if you use "whether a game is won or lost is all-important" as justification for treating small material losses as the same importance as large material losses, then you're diluting even your intended meaning of gambit, because then every single move in the game is absolutely critical, because every move affects the outcome. – John Y Oct 30 '14 at 18:48
5

"Going all-in" would seem to capture what you're going for.

Its literal definition comes from poker, but because it represents a hand where you'll literally either lose or win the maximum possible, it's used idiomatically for other situations with huge stakes in both directions.

From Wiktionary:

(poker) A hand where at least one player bets all of his or her chips.

4

In one word, it is a venture.

a commercial undertaking characterized by risk of loss as well as opportunity for profit

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/venture

You can even apply to non-business contexts. Venture, in general is a risky journey or undertaking that you want to get a value out of it. For example, there are treasure ventures and it goes parallel with your cave/treasure example.

  • I can't see why this answer wasn't appreciated much. It covers your question as a whole rather than some part of it. Also, another answer, venturesome came after my answer and it got up-voted more. Yes, you can call the task venturesome but the task itself is a venture which covers all the aspects. When you use the adjective form, it emphasizes the risk. Your cave example is exactly a venture also. – ermanen Oct 29 '14 at 0:39
  • IMO there can be low-risk ventures e.g. watching TV, getting out of bed. Therefore "venture" as a term is risk-neutral. If a venture is risky it is called a "risky venture". – steveOw Oct 30 '14 at 2:14
  • @steveOw: I don't think you can call those daily activities as venture. – ermanen Oct 30 '14 at 13:42
  • @ermanem. I agree with you that daily or usual activities would not be called ventures. I would agree that "venture" infers a move away from "the usual" and suggests some uncertainty about outcomes. But I don't think that, when used alone, "venture" signifies potential for "great loss" or "high profitability" as required by the OP. – steveOw Oct 30 '14 at 14:42
  • @steveOw: There are different aspects of the question. And the example he provided is a venture than any of other answers. Venture can have the risk of losing your life also. And why would he use the word alone without any context? I don't say this answer is better than high-stakes but it is not simply high risk high reward. – ermanen Oct 30 '14 at 15:15
4

Death-or-Glory

Taken literally, as an adjective, it indicates a special case of high-risk, high-reward, particularly appropriate to military activities (see for example Forlorn Hope). But I can imagine it being used to describe more mundane ventures in hyperbole-prone settings such as the arts, business, sports, fashion and so on.

2

Original post is asking for an adjective — that would be venturesome:

1: involving risk : hazardous <a venturesome journey>

1

"Consequential" feels a little too business. "Grave" perhaps too dark for your application.

A "momentous" task, maybe?

1
  • I think you'd probably refer to this as a "high-risk strategy" given that the implication is that you're doing this intentionally.

  • Echoing @Jaydles answer, you might want to consider whether you're "betting the farm".

1

As others have pointed out, "high-stakes" isn't just sort of right, it is precisely correct. The variations "all in" and "all or nothing" don't tell us enough about the success condition (high payoff is merely implied), only that failure means losing everything. Unfortunately, the most frequent occurrence of "high-stakes" is from unimaginative journalists and reality TV narrators who love to say things like

"... in a high-stakes game of [some spectacular-sounding activity]."

where the activity would never have sounded spectacular without the dramatic color added by the phrase "high-stakes". Sort of sad, isn't it?

That particular term is now crippled. To an audience it flags a situation as canned or the narration as overblown, and is more likely to decrease their sense that the situation is of genuine importance.

I would recommend a term like "gambit" or coming up with your own turn of phrase that says precisely what you mean without resorting to tired literary/narrative hacks. Its OK if the audience pauses for a moment to consider what you are saying -- that indicates they are actually digesting your phrase instead of blowing past it, assuming they know what you mean.

Making something up based on your "cave that you fear" example:

As you approach the cave pinpricks of excitement mix with temors of dread. You realize that entering will bring your exultation or your doom.

Or something along those lines. Thinking in the context of a game where you might have a voice actor, a book where its the reader's inner voice, or some other situation like a movie where the events are external would heavily influence the exact words I might use.

-2

In case we need a noun:

The task that may bring you great rewards or cost you your life is a quest.

protected by RegDwigнt Oct 28 '14 at 10:23

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