wild card

Cards. a card having its value decided by the wishes of the players.
a determining or important person or thing whose qualities are unknown, indeterminate, or unpredictable: In a sailboat race the weather is the wild card.
Tennis. a player, usually without ranking, who is allowed to enter a tournament at the discretion of the tournament committee after regularly qualifying competitors have been selected.


Dictionary.com Unabridged


of, constituting, or including a wild card.
Informal. of, being, or including an unpredictable or unproven element, person, item, etc.
Sports. of, being, or including an unseeded or unproven participant or team, as a team in a championship tournament that has not placed first in its league or area.


Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
wild card
1.  See wild
2.  sport a player or team that has not qualified for a competition but is allowed to take part, at the organizers' discretion, after all the regular places have been taken
3.  an unpredictable element in a situation
4.  computing a symbol that can represent any character or group of characters, as in a filename

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

wild card
1927, in fig. sense, from literal use in poker, from wild (adj.) + card (n.). Sports team sense first recorded 1950s.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Computing Dictionary

wild card definition

operating system, programming, text
(From card games in which certain cards, often the joker, can act as any other card) A special character or character sequence which matches any character in a string comparison, like ellipsis ("...") in ordinary written text.
In Unix filenames '?' matches any single character and '*' matches any zero or more characters. In regular expressions, '.' matches any one character and "[...]" matches any one of the enclosed characters.
See also Backus-Naur Form.
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010 http://foldoc.org
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

wild card

An unpredictable person or event, as in Don't count on his supporthe's a wild card, or A traffic jam? That's a wild card we didn't expect. This expression comes from card games, especially poker, where it refers to a card that can stand for any rank chosen by the player who holds it. The term was adopted in sports for an additional player or team chosen to take part in a contest after the regular places have been taken. It is also used in computer terminology for a symbol that stands for one or more characters in searches for files that share a common specification. Its figurative use dates from the mid-1900s.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
But the biggest wild card in the diet game may be how you crank out insulin.
With a second wild card playoff berth on its way, there may be slightly more
  forgiveness in the future.
Wouldn't necessarily name the mystery wild card, but could tell it from the big
The horn remains the wild card in period-instrument orchestras, and in modern
  ones too.
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