wild card

wild card, or wildcard

Meaning

  • an opportunity to participate in a sporting event without having to compete in qualifying matches or be ranked at a certain level.
  • a player or team that is permitted to compete in a game without first qualifying or being ranked.
  • a playing card with any possible colour, value, or other attribute in a game at the discretion of the player who has it.
  • a person or thing whose influence or qualities are unpredictable and uncertain.

In the software, a “wildcard character” is a character that will match a sequence of characters or any character used in a search by the software. The asterisk (*), is the most commonly used wildcard character, which typically represents zero or more characters in a string of characters.

Example Sentences

  1. Nobody can guess what Mark is going to do next. He’s always been a bit of a wild card.
  2. In Microsoft Word, wildcards can be used to replace or modify existing numerical values.
  3. Jeff can still win the game if he can manage a miracle. He’s never been one to bow down gracefully. We all wonder what kind of wildcard he might play to take the lead.
  4. Samantha was uncertain about the new man, but she was already in the game, so she might as well play the wild card.
  5. It could be a massive win or a massive loss. It all depends on the wild card being played.
  6. Every day, new challenges would arise in his job, but he was a wild-card, and he never backed away from a challenge.

Origin

The idiom “wild card” originates from card games where a playing card, usually the Joker, can be employed to represent another card or specific action agreed ahead of time. Thus, the phrase was originally used not figuratively but literally in games such as poker and rummy, commencing around the turn of the 19th century. Upon entering common parlance, the phrase has evolved into an idiom which can have different meanings in different contexts.

The first recorded printed use of wildcard figuratively is in the memoir “Liberation from Yesterday” by Max Glass-Pleshing in 1947.

England never discarded this “wild” card, and she played it with the greatest of skill. In our century, all the players have quarreled over the Mahomedan card, and it has turned up in every hand.

Here the author is referring to the way in which various countries have weaponized people who follow Islam to suit their own needs, which England has done since the time of the crusades and to justify their actions in many countries in the Middle-East. The author is not referring to an actual card. Following this, use of the term was broadened to indicate an individual or object that can bring an element of uncertainty to a situation, as their value or impact is unknown, in direct contradiction of the original literal sense of the term.

When used in sports, “wild card” indicates a competitor (or team) who has not qualified for a competition or event in the usual fashion and often has a very specific meaning for a particular sport. For example, in Minor League Baseball, it would refer to a team which did not win their division yet made the playoffs.

It was originally used as a term to describe an unknown card, in any typical kind of card game, that could ultimately change the course or outcome of the game. It began with poker and then made its way into sports idioms. Nowadays, though, you can use the term to describe just about anything that is unpredictable. Its meaning and use have somewhat changed overtime.

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