Is there an English word for an idea or policy that receives widespread acceptance not due to approval, but because opposing it requires immense effort or risk?

For example, a company's CEO introduces a diversity program which will clearly disadvantage all of its current employees, but no one objects to it in fear of the being called racist.

What can one call such a policy?

  • 4
    There are two ways to interpret "requires immense effort or risk." Your (absolutist) example presupposes that people are wrongly pressured into accepting an bad policy, but are you looking for a word that would also work if it (a) would require "immense effort" to oppose, but it isn't a big deal (for example, mustering a huge opposition to a lowering of the speed limit by 5 mph); or (b) the policy itself is good, but the bad guys are pressuring you into opposing it (e.g. the KKK threatening a city council). Jul 9, 2020 at 16:31
  • 2
    Is it a noun? An adjective? You should provide an example of a sentence in which you would use such a word to make it clearer exactly what you are looking for.
    – barbecue
    Jul 10, 2020 at 18:01
  • I agree with @barbecue. Plus it could also be a verb in which case the rather coarse expression "brown-nosing" might be of use. Jul 10, 2020 at 18:29
  • 3
    Can we get an example that's not quite so obnoxious? Diversity programs don't do that.
    – Reid
    Jul 10, 2020 at 20:17
  • 1
    @Reid Correct, but policies that do do that can be labeled diversity programs for exactly this reason, so they are awkward to oppose. This is basically normal politics in naming regulations.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jul 11, 2020 at 13:00

10 Answers 10


In politics, the idea could be called a third rail.

The third rail of a nation's politics is a metaphor for any issue so controversial that it is "charged" and "untouchable" to the extent that any politician or public official who dares to broach the subject will invariably suffer politically. The metaphor comes from the high-voltage third rail in some electric railway systems.


Or sacred cow

An idea, custom, or institution held to be above criticism


Note: the example you gave in the OP might be something different: Doing something because it is right even though it is unpopular. That is sort of the opposite of what I am answering, which is not doing something because the opposite is popular.

  • 3
    "3rd rail" isn't a word and is specific to those cultures that have 3rd rail electric trains. I had no idea what it meant until recently, I thought it meant a redundant system or outlier. Neither "3rd rail" nor "sacred cow" fit the OP's question.
    – RobG
    Jul 10, 2020 at 10:08
  • 3
    @RobG While this answer may not be perfect, I think it more closely answers the OP's question, than some of the other answers. The OP asked "What can one call such a policy?", and this answer attempts to do that, whereas some other answers are giving words for describing the response to such a policy (e.g., acquiescence, appeasement, etc.) Jul 11, 2020 at 5:49
  • 1
    My thoughts on "sacred cow" are that it's more about longstanding practices or policy that is just followed because that's the way things have always been done. In regard to new policy, perhaps fait acompli suits? It's more than one word and I guess not strictly English, but then many words and phrases in English are from other languges.
    – RobG
    Jul 11, 2020 at 7:36

I suggest acquiescence.

Acquiescence (noun): The reluctant acceptance of something without protest.

Example: in silent acquiescence, she rose to her feet. [Lexico]

The verb for that would be acquiesce which means to accept something reluctantly but without protest.

Or try preference falsification.

Preference falsification is the act of communicating a preference that differs from one's true preference. The public frequently convey, especially to researchers or pollsters, preferences that differ from what they truly want, often because they believe the conveyed preference is more acceptable socially. [Wikipedia]

(Groupthink, pluralistic ignorance, capitulate and the lesser of two evils could also work here.)

  • 5
    Note: "preference falsification" amd "pluralistic ignorance" are not in common usage. Jul 9, 2020 at 12:34
  • I think "acquiescence" is a good way to describe the response to the idea, but I think the OP is asking for a word to describe the idea itself, isn't it? Jul 10, 2020 at 7:56
  • 1
    What I mean is that the OP is asking for "an English word for an idea or policy that receives widespread acceptance not due to approval ..", which is about this bad idea or policy itself, rather than a word to describe how people may respond to it. I think "acquiescence" is indeed an excellent word to describe the response, described as "acceptance not due to approval, but because opposing it requires immense effort or risk". However, the question seems to be asking for a word to describe the idea or policy itself. Jul 11, 2020 at 6:08

Expedient is the most appropriate word that comes to mind.

characterized by concern with what is opportune
especially : governed by self-interest

If it is expedient to do something, it is useful or convenient to do it, even though it may not be morally right.

Or possibly qualified as politically expedient

  • The OP asks for "an English word for an idea or policy that receives widespread acceptance not due to approval, but because opposing it requires immense effort or risk." So, people may not oppose this horrible idea or policy, out of political expediency, but "expedient" describes how people respond to that idea or policy, rather than being a word that describes the idea or policy itself. Jul 11, 2020 at 6:13

Bowing down to a powerful group on grounds of expediency rather than because it's the right (or even most beneficial, in the long term, for the complying group/s and others) thing to do is called appeasement.

appeasement [noun; non-count] [formal; disapproval]

Appeasement means giving people what they want to prevent them from harming you or being angry with you.

He denied there is a policy of appeasement.

[Collins CoBuild; reformatted]

The claim that Churchill denounced appeasement when Nazi Germany was the threat with

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile — hoping it will eat him last.

is making liberal use of paraphrase (while being essentially accurate) (and very snappy). [Quote Investigator]

  • 1
    Hm, but would one typically "appease" your direct superiors? Jul 9, 2020 at 16:36
  • The term covers many situations of acquiescence, but admittedly not all. Jul 9, 2020 at 20:24
  • 1
    I think "appeasement" is a way to describe the response to the idea, but I think the OP is asking for a word to describe the idea itself, isn't it? So something more like "third rail" or "sacred cow" might fit was asked for? Jul 10, 2020 at 7:58
  • The policy itself can be called an appeasement. M-W lists the count usage. << appeasement noun [plural appeasements] 1: the act or action of appeasing someone or something … one tribe may go in for the appeasement of local ghosts — W. D. Howells ... especially : a policy of appeasing an enemy or potential aggressor by making concessions >> act, action, policy. Jul 10, 2020 at 12:02
  • 2
    @Timbo Hmm. Perhaps. Nevertheless, it doesn't seem to capture the nuance of "not objecting to your superiors because of outside pressure." Is appeasement passive? I haven't downvoted, but I just don't think it works. Jul 11, 2020 at 19:26

If you are choosing one option as the default out of not a choosing risky option, then you are minimizing risk by being circumspect.

: careful to consider all circumstances and possible consequences : PRUDENT
// diplomacy required a circumspect response
// They are circumspect in all their business dealings.

In the context of the question, the following would be an appropriate sentences:

  • New corporate politics required a circumspect policy.
  • Employees, not wishing to appear unsympathetic to the new diversity program, made the circumspect decision to remain silent.

"Groupthink" is close. The OED defines it as:

A type of thinking engaged in by a group of people deliberating an issue, typically characterized by the making of injudicious decisions through individuals' unwillingness to challenge group consensus.


Politically correct, and politically incorrect

A company introduces a diversity program (something that may be considered as "politically correct") which will clearly disadvantage all of its current employees, but no one objects to it (because such opposition may be considered "politically incorrect") for fear of being called a racist.


politically correct adj. (a) appropriate to the prevailing political or social circumstances (in early use not as a fixed collocation); (b) spec. (originally U.S., sometimes depreciative) conforming to a body of liberal or radical opinion, esp. on social matters, usually characterized by the advocacy of approved causes or views, and often by the rejection of language, behaviour, etc., considered discriminatory or offensive (cf. correct adj. Additions); abbreviated PC.

1798 A. J. Dallas Rep. Cases U.S. & Pennsylvania 2 462 Sentiments and expressions of this inaccurate kind prevail in our..language... ‘The United States’, instead of the ‘People of the United States’, is the toast given. This is not politically correct.

1970 T. Cade Black Woman 73 A man cannot be politically correct and a chauvinist too.

2001 Guardian 25 Aug. i. 13/1 Teenage boys are at the least politically correct stage of their lives.

politically incorrect adj. not politically correct; flouting liberal convention; discriminatory.

1876 J. Routledge Chapters Hist. Pop. Progress ii. 28 Politically incorrect, the clergy were socially in accord with the amenities of English life.

1939 New Republic 9 Aug. 20/1 It isn't just because of rapidly shifting times and attitudes—going back to ‘Lives of a Bengal Lancer’ almost five years afterward, you will find it just as politically incorrect and marvelous as ever.

2000 K. Sewell in J. Thomas Catwomen from Hell 17 This bike of mine was parked outside in the street,..its genuine, politically incorrect crocodile-skin panniers shining with layers of beeswax polish.

  • 3
    This was suggested in the comments, but I don't see how it applies. Can you add an example sentence as to how you would describe the situation using "PC"? To me, it does not capture the full nuance. Jul 9, 2020 at 16:34
  • 6
    In particular, this doesn't seem to describe other, similar, situations to me. For example, someone who was opposed to McCarthyism during the red scare era, but afraid to voice those opinions due to popular support for McCarthyism... I don't think anyone would describe McCarthyism as politically correct... Jul 9, 2020 at 16:52
  • 4
    Agree with user3067860 - "politically correct" only works in reference to one particular political faction. Jul 9, 2020 at 17:54
  • 2
    I don't think this fits the OP in a general sense, it's too restrictive.
    – RobG
    Jul 10, 2020 at 10:10
  • @user3067860 History would say that that is a value judgement and not a parallel. More to the point, the second paragraph of the OP gives the context: diversity is "politically correct."
    – Greybeard
    Jul 11, 2020 at 15:12

It doesn't really suit your specific example, but for instance when a company implements a crazy policy because all competitors are doing it as well, you could call it a fomo-policy (Fear Of Missing Out policy)

  • 1
    Single word request answers on EL&U are expected to provide references and reasons why the word(s) put forward are appropriate for the situation described. Jul 10, 2020 at 7:59

Placate: to appease or pacify, especially by concessions or conciliatory gestures: to placate an outraged citizenry. First recorded in 1670–80; from Latin plācātus, past participle of “to quiet, calm, appease. So, placation. "The company instituted a policy of placation, disarming its critics."


PROPAGANDA. (пропаганда). The official party line - slanted information, selectively presented, in an authoritarian regime, which isn't necessarily believed, but people need to accept/"believe". Also, selectively presented news/information strongly favoring one particular political/ideological viewpoint and deliberately encouraging its audience in that direction, e.g: Fox "News", Drudge Report, Breitbart, OAN.)

To go with the original question: in an authoritative regime, opposing the official line is risky. And people - at least those who're relatively well-informed, as opposed to those who have only state-sponsored media as their information source - wouldn't necessarily approve of it, and in fact generally wouldn't.

(Almost by definition, propaganda wouldn't be necessary if the claims made in it were true.)

  • 1
    Silly non-political example: Someone at the company meeting says we want a new football stadium and nobody is willing to say no, so it gets built (then the company goes bankrupt because they can't afford it). Was the football stadium propaganda? Jul 13, 2020 at 11:49

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.