If I step in a bear trap and get caught, I triggered the trap by stepping in it. The trap being set made it something that could be triggered. Both the trap and my stepping in it are causes of me getting caught. What word complements "trigger" to describe the kind of cause that is setting the trap?

If I lose money on a horse race, my horse coming in 2nd is one cause of my loss. Having placed a bet on the race is another cause. I only lost money because of both of these causes combined.

The horse losing the race is the trigger. What word complements "trigger" to describe the kind of cause that is having placed the bet?

Sample sentence: When looking into an incident, the trigger is often clear, but the more important cause is usually the __________.

I'm especially looking to use this term in the world of business and technology. Examples I'd like to describe:

  • I lost my data because my hard drive failed and I kept only a single copy of my data. The hard drive failure was the trigger. Keeping only a single copy was the other kind of cause.
  • An employee left the company because they found a good offer and because they were dissatisfied with their working conditions.
  • The company defaulted on the contract because they delivered in six months but had promised to deliver in three.
  • The computer was infected because the user opened a phishing attachment and the computer's anti-virus had been disabled.

I feel like there has to be a technical term for this from medicine or engineering even if there isn't one in common parlance, but my Google abilities are failing me.

Engineering example: The building collapse was triggered by the high winds striking the corner of the building, where the dampeners had only been designed for head-on winds.

Medical example: The bee sting triggered the patient's allergy.

What kind of cause are the design failure and allergy?

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    Something like the critereon for failure? Prerequisite? I don't see how one is necessarily the trigger, just because it happened to be the last requirement met. I could bet with my friend on something in the past, and then go investigate who won. Does that change the trigger? Or is this some terminology used in logical analysis?
    – Davo
    Aug 14, 2017 at 18:06
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    These are often called “contributing factors”
    – Jim
    Aug 14, 2017 at 18:12
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    Why is the horse losing the race the 'trigger', rather than your placing the bet? Because it happens later? If so, pre-existing contributory factors would be 'predispositions' in the medical examples. Aug 14, 2017 at 18:18
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  • 3
    Are you looking for something with a similar meaning to root cause? Aug 14, 2017 at 19:00

4 Answers 4


I really think you’re overcomplicating something that doesn’t need it.

Trigger first applied to a crossbow and now fits a firearm, and with either there’s first a trigger then a finger then a shooter then a commander then a patron and how far will you go for a real cause, please?

In your trap analogy what really complements trigger is your own setting but that’s not what you want, is it? Nor is any physical part of the trapper.

Does that not leave you with the trapper’s or his boss’s plan/intention/aim/desire?

In your examples I suggest the hard drive failure was not the trigger, but the result. A soft- or hardware fault, a power surge, a coffee spill or some such was the trigger and importantly, Keeping only a single copy was irrelevant, on the level of your Question.

Ignoring employees leaving and companies defaulting and computers being infected, you’re really asking What kind of cause are the design failure and allergy, aren’t you?

They’re underlying causes.

The underlying cause of a bear-trap being set is prolly the fur market.

The underlying cause of your data loss might have been a power surge which triggered the HD failure.

The underlying cause of your building collapsing was a design flaw which failed to take account of strong winds, which triggered the collapse.

The underlying cause of the bee-sting problem was the allergy, which meant that the bee-sting triggered the appropriate response.

  • I think you're getting at something important, but your causal chain for the trigger-pulling isn't what I'm asking about. Pulling the trigger on a crossbow is not a sufficient cause; the crossbow must also be cocked. A cocked crossbow is triggerable. An uncocked crossbow is not. If I ask, "why did the crossbow fire?" one answer is that you pulled the trigger, but another answer is that it was cocked. This becomes a more interesting distinction when someone pulls the trigger on a gun, thinking they are dry-firing it, but someone else had loaded the gun without their knowledge.
    – Dane
    Aug 16, 2017 at 13:17
  • Thanks, Dane, and suffice it to say that because the bolt sitting on the outside of a crossbow is visible and the bullet inside a gun isn't, doesn't make any linguistic difference; not grammatically nor semantically. Beyond that thanks, and I try to avoid pin-dancing… Aug 18, 2017 at 19:51

Personally I would use the following words:


a point of time at this juncture; especially : one made critical by a concurrence of circumstances



a bounding or limiting line; especially : one that when crossed commits a person irrevocably



1: of, relating to, or constituting a pivot

2: vitally important : critical

A pivot is: a person, thing, or factor having a major or central role, function, or effect. So in this case at a given Juncture (time oriented) you identified a Pivot (thing oriented). The Pivot is, therefore, Pivotal.


The words I've proposed were based on the request by the OP:

I'm especially looking to use this term in the world of business and technology.

I do feel its specially consistent with the OP intentions because you find them regularly in Business and Tech articles:

When the iPod wheel was ruled out and the touch ruled in, the new question was how to build the phone’s operating system. This was a critical juncture — it would determine whether the iPhone would be positioned as an accessory or as a mobile computer. (link)

Perhaps the most pivotal couplings were the ones that turbocharged complex, or eukaryotic, cells. Eukaryotes use specialised organelles such as mitochondria and chloroplasts to extract energy from food or sunlight. (link)

"Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering," says Jobs, adding, that Rubicon is "crossed when you become a VP." (link)

  • Uh… no. Junctures, rubicons and pivots have no place here. Aug 16, 2017 at 0:04
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    @RobbieGoodwin I just added multiple links to articles of well know media, using those exact words, in the context the OP requested. Although I don't mind some constructive criticism I do find a condescending attitude something specially belittle to what is supposed to be the objective of communities like this.
    – armatita
    Aug 16, 2017 at 7:59

Based on comments, discussions, and my own research, the best I've found are the following options.


  1. Currently unrealized ability
  2. (physics) . . .
  3. (physics) . . .
  4. (grammar) A verbal construction or form stating something is possible or probable.

This can be used to describe the trigger of and potential for a given effect. For example, a cocked crossbow has the potential to fire a bolt, and depressing the lever triggers this potential.

Related, where you might want to be quite clear that you are talking about having potential, rather than being uncertain (such as when you say that excess sugar is a "possible cause" of hyperactivity), then you might want the following:


  1. The quality of being, or having potential.
  2. An inherent capacity for growth or development.
  3. An aptitude amenable to development; capability.

This may even be the best term to use in the sample sentence: When looking into an incident, the trigger is often clear, but the more important cause is usually the potentiality.

While proximate and ultimate causality relate to this, the cause that allows something to be triggered seems to be a second proximate cause and better described in terms of potential energy as above.

While searching for various kinds of causes, one that seems to be an accurate description is a latent cause.


Existing or present but concealed or inactive.

This adjective might be combined with proximate to speak about a latent proximate cause and a triggering proximate cause. Where I want to emphasize the latent cause over the trigger, I might say, "the latent cause and its triggering event."

Finally, the words condition and contingency seem like they may apply to some examples, where a contingency may be triggered or something may be a condition for a trigger to bring about the effect.

  • Hmm I disagree with potential, but from that I think you want something like enabling cause - the fact that A was the only reason cause B could happen at all.
    – Alok
    Aug 17, 2017 at 1:36

origin could be used if you want a single word specifically. I would also suggest proximate cause for the condition that finally results in the event (getting caught by the trap).

I lost my data because my hard drive failed and I kept only a single copy of my data. The hard drive failure was the trigger.

The origin was only keeping a single copy of my data, and the proximate cause of data loss was hard drive failure.

Given the new clarification that it doesn't need to be a single word, then most of the appropriate answers will be of the form xyz clause - such as root cause suggested in a comment; or original cause (clearer than just saying origin) which however isn't as good fit as the others :)

If you don't consider the trap being set up as more important than it getting triggered, then you can also call it a conditional clause which was necessary but not sufficient for getting caught in the trap. Both of these (setting trap + stepping on it) together are the independent sufficient causes for the result to take place.

  • No, the actual cause of data loss was whatever made the HD fail. Origin is simply not an appropriate term grammatically, semantically or in any way idiomatically. Aug 16, 2017 at 0:03
  • @RobbieGoodwin Fire investigations are actually called 'origin & cause' investigations. In context of OP, it could be stated as The destruction was caused by fire (trigger), but the more important reason was the origin imho. Also, note that OP asked for a SWR not a phrase which limits the possible answers.
    – Alok
    Aug 16, 2017 at 0:38
  • Really? First, what's an SWR? Fire investigations can be called whatever they like in the jurisdictions you're familiar with and why would that make that terminology applicable generally? I talked to fire officers most working days for years and I never once heard the phrase origin & cause. What does that tell you, please? Even if the conclusion The destruction was caused by fire (trigger) isn't your own guess, it would clearly apply to every single fire, making itself meaningless. Further, trigger relates how to origin or cause? Aug 16, 2017 at 0:58
  • SWR - single word request. Yes, fire being trigger would apply always, I was trying to fit in a sentence similar to the sample sentence in question.
    – Alok
    Aug 16, 2017 at 0:58
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    Oh… single word request and first, I saw nothing of that in the Question and further, have you noticed that most SWR can't be answered as such, but need phrases instead of words? None of which alters the simple fact that what best fits the OQ is underlying until you can justify a better option. Aug 16, 2017 at 1:00

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