I am looking for a word that represents the following scenario.

Two people in a partnership, person A and person B. Person A has information that is necessary for the proper functioning of partnership, but this person chooses not to disclose it and is constantly subjugating (controlling) person B. On other words, amicable control and/or exploitation through secrecy.

closed as too localized by J.R., tchrist, FumbleFingers, MetaEd, Daniel Nov 17 '12 at 20:07

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    What do you mean by secrecy - does Person B know the secret? Is the information pertinent to a legal partnership? Is is blackmail or coersion? – Kristina Lopez Nov 16 '12 at 20:55
  • Is the nature of the partnership similar to a marital relationship? (I'm having a hard time deciding on which stage person A an person B are acting.) – rajah9 Nov 16 '12 at 21:17
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    It depends on the nature of the necessity and of the information. What are the precise consequences Person B will face if they choose to not act according to the will of Person A? I'm having a hard to thinking up any examples where this is true. – Ben Lee Nov 16 '12 at 21:35
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    Please explain how this "control and/or exploitation" can be "amicable." Bit of an oxymoron there. I'm going to control you, and withhold information that will render you ineffective – but I'll do it with a smile on my face. I also think that you might get better answers if you gave more concrete information; there's a certain irony in the vagueness of your question. – J.R. Nov 16 '12 at 22:13
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    No need to apologize, but, the more I thought about it, the more I marvelled at the "meta-irony" - not providing details in an inquiry about not providing details. :^) – J.R. Nov 16 '12 at 22:26

I can't think of a single "word" for it, but I can offer a dual idiom. You could say:

Person A is holding onto the power position by keeping (or playing) his cards close to the vest.

The power position is where you have an upper hand in negotiations. From a review of a book on negotiating:

Negotiation doesn't begin at the table. It starts with preparation. Gosselin prepares you for success by showing you how to identify your underlying needs and those of your opponent, how to develop objectives and establish a position, how to use currencies and concessions, and how to assess your power position in negotiation situations.

The idiom playing cards close to the vest (or chest) refers to being careful not to reveal information or motivation in a negotiation setting. Alice Haverland1 says:

The literal reference is to holding your playing cards close enough to your chest so that no one else can see them. The idea is to prevent others in the game from gaining a strategic advantage over you. You do this by not allowing them – or their possible confederates standing behind you – even a glimpse of your cards.

The metaphorical use, then, is a natural extension: if you play it close to the vest/chest, you plot your course of action cautiously, carefully, and with cunning; and – most importantly – you keep your intentions and all relevant information hidden.

I don't think either idiom fully captures everything you want on its own, but, in concert, they seem to capture the gist of what you're asking about.

1When using this reference, click on the link that says "Impatient?" to read Haverland's essay.



  • A and B have agreed to collaborate in order to achieve some mutual gain
  • A brings to the partnership knowledge of a Vital Secret
  • B is unwilling to withdraw from the partnership, for he will thereby lose the hoped-for gain
  • A exploits his knowledge of the Vital Secret to maintain control of the partnership's operations.

B chafes at A's control; but A might very reasonably point out that if he reveals the Vital Secret, he risks loss of his asset, for a secret revealed cannot be taken back, and B might choose to operate on his own and cut A out of the gain.

Presumably B, too, brings some valuable asset to the partnership, or A would have no reason to work with him. By the same token, however, B's asset must be one which A might obtain elsewhere, for otherwise B might put himself on equal footing with A by threatening to withhold his asset. Because B's desire for gain outweighs his desire for control, A has the whip hand in the negotiation.

Two literary analogies spring to mind:

  • In Treasure Island, Long John Silver commands a superior force and controls the ship, but Capt. Smollett controls two Vital Secrets: the Treasure Map and his knowledge of Navigation. From this position of strength, Smollett rejects Silver's offer of a negotiated compromise, setting in motion the events which lead to the defeat of the pirates.
  • Lactantius tells of the Cumaean Sibyl Amalthæa: “They say that she brought nine books to the king Tarquinius Priscus, and asked for them three hundred philippics, and that the king refused so great a price, and derided the madness of the woman; that she, in the sight of the king, burnt three of the books, and demanded the same price for those which were left; that Tarquinias much more considered the woman to be mad; and that when she again, having burnt three other books, persisted in asking the same price, the king was moved, and bought the remaining books for the three hundred pieces of gold.”

So you might describe the situation as a Cumaean Negotiation, the Vital Secret as a Treasure Map, and A's position as possession of the whip hand.

  • I never knew that tactic (used by hostage-takers who kill their hostages) was called Cumaean. – Andrew Leach Nov 17 '12 at 8:52
  • @AndrewLeach Very possibly it never has been until now. And it may never be again, unless OP follows my advice. – StoneyB Nov 17 '12 at 11:19

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