An example paragraph with the word that may not even exist:

"I went to look at the old factory, and saw that the <MAGIC_WORD> of the controls showed that it would have been making chairs. But the production records indicated they were making tables, instead. So it may be that someone came in and messed with the controls, or it could be an error in the readout."

Words I considered, but rejected:

Several ordinary words seem like they could fit, but all of the ones I can think of feel inadequate to emphasize that they are for "The way all these hardware adjusting controls are currently set."

"Arrangement" came to mind first, but felt like it was merely talking about a layout of the controls. You can arrange a display so that, say, a knob for volume is located on any part of a console, and this would be an arrangement. But I am wanting to refer to the levels at which every control 'widget' is set.

"Setup" seem the same sort of failing as "arrangement."

"Settings" also came to mind, but this felt so abstract that it didn't even need the hardware. I want to emphasize that the hardware itself has been physically adjusted to match a set of data (that is, the Settings).

Thesaurus attempts that proved unfruitful: I searched thesaurus.com for all of the above words, and got nothing useful. Additionally, I tried the following words : snapshot, picture, instantiation, reify, exhibit, actualize, and exteriorize.

Ideal results:

Ideally, I'm looking for a noun here. However, if such a word only exists in some other form (e.g. verb), I'm happy to hear it.

I'm looking for one word because I want brevity, but a compound word / two words is okay, too, if they are very short.

Heck, I'd be fine with a clever (but short) portmanteau, like "levarrangement." However, that's long, clunky, and really only feels like it is for levers, specifically. (Again, I'd be okay with a similarly 'narrow' result, if it was quite short.)

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    You may not do better than 'setting': << setting sense 2. [countable noun]: A setting is one of the positions to which the controls of a device such as a cooker, stove, or heater can be adjusted. >> [Collins] Commented Apr 1 at 18:35
  • What about layout? Commented Apr 2 at 5:38
  • 4
    Strangely, if you put "configuration" into thesaurus.com, it gives you "arrangement" but not the other way round. Collins is the same. Roget's doesn't put them in the same list (at least in the old editions online); mine at home is not exactly new. Merriam-Webster does return "configuration" if you ask for "arrangement"
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 2 at 10:02
  • This isn't a word that means what you want in general, but in context, "the positions of the controls" would work perfectly, since you are talking about physical controls which are changed by changing their positions.
    – kaya3
    Commented Apr 4 at 14:03

14 Answers 14


This is a configuration. From Mirriam-Webster:

Configuration (noun) 1b: something (such as a figure, contour, pattern, or apparatus) that results from a particular arrangement of parts or components

It is used the same way for (virtual) controls in a computer program. You go into a settings menu to modify the configuration of parameters. In the physical equivalent of buttons and knobs, each control manipulates one or more parameters in your hypothetical factory machinery- belt speed, gear ratio, air pressure of a compressor, temperature of a heating element, and so on.

  • 2
    It probably also helps that this is an old word for this. Depending on context this may be more desirable than other terms which mostly take this meaning in a computer context.
    – davolfman
    Commented Apr 3 at 0:45
  • +1 - a good word for the manual I guess - latinate n'all. My (UK) English prefers setting.
    – Dan
    Commented Apr 3 at 12:57
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    setting usually refers to 1 particular control (button, lever) state, so you should say it in plural - "settings". However, we usually prefer singular form for naming something, so in this respect configuration would be better. Commented Apr 4 at 7:47
  • @AgniusVasiliauskas - yes, individual controls may be set, so too can a machine (with multiple variable controls) be set (and thereby have a setting). In fact, altering several controls to do this rather than that or the other is more of a 'setting' than a configuration, which to my mind implies a more in depth alteration of the way the machine itself is put together.
    – Dan
    Commented Apr 4 at 15:48
  • OP already said that settings "...felt so abstract that it didn't even need the hardware. I want to emphasize that the hardware itself has been physically adjusted..." Settings sounds alright to me in general, but configuration can be used for physical objects. You might have a set of LEGO blocks that can be either a car or a plane, depending on their arrangement or configuration (and OP ruled out arrangement already as well)
    – automaton
    Commented Apr 4 at 16:09

Another option is state. Simple switches have two states - on and off. But state is used in much broader situations as well. The position of all the control surfaces on an aircraft (or their commanded positions) is the control state vector. Vector here meaning only that there are a whole list of surfaces. The position and velocity (both 6 dof) relative to the ground is the navigation state vector.

So it's just as normal to talk about the state of an entire control panel's inputs and outputs as it is to talk about the state of a single switch.

This is why we have the "State of the Union" address.

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    I think "the state of the controls" sounds perfectly natural and gets the point across well.
    – kaya3
    Commented Apr 2 at 18:02
  • 3
    @kaya3: "control state" is shorter and (I think) a common phrase. Commented Apr 2 at 20:12
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    In Math, also in Computer Science, "state machine" has a specific meaning (applicable to the OP's example) and carries with it the concept of a given "state" being just one of many in some specific set of possible "states." Commented Apr 2 at 20:19
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    "State" is correct, where "configuration" is not. Configuration includes modes as well.
    – fectin
    Commented Apr 3 at 0:40
  • 1
    +1, “state” was the word I immediately thought of when reading the question
    – Josh
    Commented Apr 3 at 14:18

These could be their settings. From the Collins Dictionary:

A setting is one of the positions to which the controls of a device such as a cooker, stove, or heater can be adjusted.

  • OP gives this, and I echoed it. Commented Apr 2 at 11:29
  • @EdwinAshworth You’re right. I do still want to emphasize that this isn’t related to a set of things, and doesn’t feel abstract to me.
    – Davislor
    Commented Apr 2 at 18:53

I think the word you're looking for is 'setup'.

The machine can be configured to produce chairs or tables, but the configuration cannot be saved, it exists as a span across 4 dimensions. You can establish a different configuration by changing the setup, which moves the machine from one configuration to another. The setup includes the settings, but may also include the sequence in which the settings are applied to the controls. If the setup can be performed in any order, you can take a snap-shot of the settings for that setup, and you might be able to reload the snapshot and apply it to the settings to restore the configuration. If you mess around with the settings, you get a different setup, which may not produce a useful configuration.


In music specifically, especially with synthesizers, this is known as a patch.

  • Not sure that would apply here: patching usually involves connections/cables/patch panels.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Apr 4 at 7:18
  • With analog modular synths that's the precise and original meaning, but the usage of the word goes far beyond that. For example, here's a discussion about finding patches for the Minimoog, which has no patch cables to speak of, just dials and switches. Here's another discussion where the word "patch" refers to the configuration of a software synth. Commented Apr 4 at 17:23

This can be called a preset:

  • A setting on a device that is adjusted or applied before use or by the manufacturer, especially on electronic audio or video equipment. (Oxford Languages via Google)
  • A position that can be set using the controls of a piece of equipment. (Cambridge Dictionary)

The word "preset" is more specific than "configuration"; it is typically used for intended configurations, particularly those which can be loaded from a device's memory, but it could also include configurations which have been recorded on paper and manually entered.

So if the factory controls are set in a known position for making tables, this word would fit. However, if the controls are scrambled as if by someone changing them randomly, and it's only a coincidence that the configuration is valid for making tables, then you wouldn't use this word in the given context.


Mode. "I went to look at the old factory, and saw that it was in chair production mode. But the xxxproductionxxx records indicated they were making tables, instead. So it may be that someone came in and messed with the controls, or it could be an error in the readout."


Another word that can describe the settings of a control panel is a tuning. It somewhat calls to mind the notion of adjusting dials on a radio or other audio equipment. It in a way connotes an adjustment to some group of continuous settings, rather than a wholesale change of mode - you might tune a system to run faster or slower, but probably not to accomplish an entirely different task, for example.

This word also carries the connotation of a purposeful and precise configuration, unlike some of the more neutral options which could describe even a random setting.


Maybe late and maybe not the best ( I would go with either "Configuration" or "Settings" already suggested in previous answers) But just because nobody else mentioned it so you also have the term


.. that might be applied in similar situations, and can also be used in conjunction with the above answers as in "..their Configuration scheme.." or even "..their Settings scheme.." which might sound a bit weird to a specific ear but can work.

Other two options ( again, only because nobody mentioned ) : " Formation " and " Composition " also come to mind, but might have the same drawback mentioned of "Layout".


'Snapshot' itself seems perfect.

Consider a fairly old-fashioned movie featuring a computer with umpty flashing lights.

What could those lights usefully mean to a human operator until the machine failed, freezing the flashing lights into a fixed pattern?

Isn't that a 'snapshot'?

How does that not describe the situation about which you ask?


Many good answers. My answer is profile.

BTW, In AI image creation it is called generation data (which strikes me as being a minimal effort at creating a nomenclature).

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Apr 3 at 17:02

There's also "assemblage" and "array."

Collins gives definitions:

An assemblage of people or things is a collection of them. [formal] He had an assemblage of old junk cars filling the backyard.


An array of different things or people is a large number or wide range of them. As the deadline approached she experienced a bewildering array of emotions.

  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review
    – Greybeard
    Commented Apr 3 at 19:42
  • The OP asked for language suggestions, and I was suggesting language.
    – Susannah
    Commented Apr 4 at 22:05
  • You should have been giving suggestions with citations/examples in context and demonstrated how your particular suggestions are appropriate to the OP's context.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Apr 5 at 15:40

You already said it.


is often used as a summary of the state/configuration of the system.

It's the correct word to use in audio contexts (see this link). The original method was taking a photo. This has since been extended to include all automation and other settings, but "snapshot" is still the word used in the audio industry.

In any other context though, it should be just as well understood. For example, we also talk about snapshots of virtual machines.

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    I would argue that Snapshot fits best when the current configuration (which is the accepted answer) is recorded in some manner. It becomes a snapshot after recording, but if no recording exists there still needs to be a name for it. Commented Apr 2 at 8:57
  • OP gives this, and has already rejected it. Commented Apr 2 at 11:31

In software environments this is often referred to as a...


The idea being that a particular configuration is saved as a named bookmark and you can return to the bookmark at a later stage.

There are lots of other words and ideas that potentially fall out of the same concept. For example buttons that allow "reset to default" or the notion of saving a file or setting.

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