Is there one word for a harmful idea/plan? (All that comes to my mind is evil/wicked idea, but it's two words, and anyway it's actually a synonym for brilliant/cunning idea.)

The whole idea to slander John was... blah, blah...

Thank you guys. Plot, scheme, and intrigue will do. Scam is fine as well, only a bit too informal for the context I need.

  • I realised the question was obvious immediately after I got the answers. I was exhausted, my mind was blank... Maybe it could be of some use when moved to the English Language Learners site (or shall I delete it?)
    – shogun
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 8:27

6 Answers 6


According to Merriam-Webster, you can use plot:

[ perhaps back-formation from complot ] : a secret plan for accomplishing a usually evil or unlawful end
from m-w.com

  • 1
    I was just writing an answer about "plot" :) That's definitely the word I would use. Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 19:23
  • 2
    "Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder treason and plot." Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 19:23

I favor scheme. While it can refer to plans more generally, the connotation is commonly negative. From the Oxford English Dictionary, bold for emphasis:

5 b. Hence, A plan of action devised in order to attain some end; a purpose together with a system of measures contrived for its accomplishment; a project, enterprise. Often with unfavourable notion, a self-seeking or an underhand project, a plot (cf. scheme v., scheming adj.), or a visionary or foolish project. Phrase, to lay a scheme.

And Cambridge Dictionary:

A scheme is also a secret and dishonest plan:

Villains have schemes. Con artists use Ponzi schemes or Pyramid schemes. A "scheme to slander" appears in many search results. Hence:

The whole scheme to slander John was ...

  • 1
    I think OP is looking for a SW that means bad/harmful idea. “To slander John was a scheme”?
    – user 66974
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 19:09
  • @user067531 In American English, scheme is definitely a bad or harmful idea, e.g. "a Ponzi scheme". I do not think that "scheme" has the same pejorative connotation in British or other English usage though. Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 8:37

If the idea is to benefit someone whilst harming someone else, "ploy" could also be used.

From Oxford:

A cunning plan or action designed to turn a situation to one's own advantage.

From M-W:

a tactic intended to embarrass or frustrate an opponent


Maybe intrigue could work in your context -


: make secret plans to do something illicit or detrimental to someone.

(From Oxford)


The whole intrigue to slander John was... blah, blah...

There is also conspiracy -


a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.

(From Oxford)


The whole conspiracy to slander John was... blah, blah...


Another one that nobody has mentioned yet could be 'caper':


an illegal or questionable act or escapade

(From M-W)


Maybe "scam":

scam noun

: a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation

M-W gives the example:

Authorities said a parolee with a long history of identity theft and credit card scams masqueraded as a ride-share driver downtown and cleaned out the bank accounts of at least four people after gaining access to their bank cards.

So your sentence would be:

"The whole scam to slander John was..."

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