I'm trying to describe a situation that you face when both you and another person must make a choice, but the outcome of both choices depends on the other person's choices, leading you and the other to wait in order to try to guess the other's course of action.

For instance, when you're going one way on the sidewalk, and someone else is coming your way, a collision would happen should neither of you change path.

Now the problem is who should do it, and in which direction ? It is quite common that you and the other would try and sidestep in the same direction at the same time for a while in unfortunate synchronization.

So I'm looking for a word that can describe the situation, or the behaviour of people facing this situation.

I know there is such a word, at least in French (my native language), because a teacher introduced the notion (using the very same example I gave) during his lecture. Unfortunately, I can't remember the word (hence my asking), but it was in the context of Speech Act theory. I appreciate the expressive power of this word and would like to rediscover it....

  • 1
    Dilemma, do you mean? Search for synonyms of this.
    – NVZ
    Mar 31, 2016 at 11:06
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    Dilemma describes a situation with several possible choices (generally with all choices having bad outcomes). In the described situation, the outcome of your choice depends on the other person's choice. Chances are that I'm looking for a rather technical term.
    – dureuill
    Mar 31, 2016 at 11:16
  • 'Perturbation theory' is used in science where a direct solution is unavailable and a series of small changes in approach is made in an attempt to arrive at a workable though less than ideal solution. Mar 31, 2016 at 11:37
  • Either the two must coordinate their actions, or one must predicate their action on that taken by the other. But neither coordinate nor predicate implies that the actions be different, just appropriate and well timed. It is the game's construct that establishes the criteria for success.
    – Phil Sweet
    Apr 1, 2016 at 1:44
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    This is a particular aspect of game theory, an area of mathematics and philosophy that studies how "intelligent" people attempt to "out-think" each other in a situation where the choice made by Person A will affect the way Person B chooses, and vice-versa.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 2, 2016 at 22:36

1 Answer 1


In American English, we call this "playing chicken," the idea being to see who will "chicken out" and move to avoid the disaster. Its most common use is in a situation like the one you described, in which two people are moving toward each other (on foot or in vehicles, often as a game) and one must literally swerve out of the other's way. But it's also used more figuratively to describe a situation in which two (or more) people each want to prove their superiority by not making the first move.

  • This one is definitely interesting, thanks. I don't believe the word I'm looking for bears the meaning of "wanting to prove one's superiority", though.
    – dureuill
    Apr 2, 2016 at 20:49

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