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Related to wildcard: wildcard mask
1. In a card game, a card that the player can choose to represent any card. He's going to play his wild card as an ace to win.
2. Someone or something that is unpredictable. He is too much of a wild card to be a successful candidate. Nobody wants to vote for someone wildly unpredictable. The wild card in this game will be the weather.
3. A person or team who is permitted to participate in an event or competition, such as a round of playoffs, without having to adhere to the usual entry protocol. The wild card rarely wins the championship, but anything is possible.
4. In computing, a character that is substituted for an unknown character in a search. An asterisk is often used as a wild card in database searches.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
An unpredictable person or event, as in Don't count on his support-he'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 © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
a wild card
You describe someone or something as a wild card when they cause uncertainty because nobody knows how they will behave or what effects they will have. Some Italians think of her as a possible wild card in next year's presidential election. Note: In games such as poker, a wild card is a card that can have any value a player chooses.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
An unpredictable person or event. The expression originated in poker and other card games, where a wild card may represent any rank chosen by the player holding it. It first was transferred to sports, for an additional player or team chosen to take part in a competition, and then to computer terminology, for a symbol that stands for one or more characters in searches for files. It has been used figuratively since the mid-1900s. For example, “The flight was canceled? That’s a wild card we didn’t count on,” or “Henry’s always been a wild card—you don’t know which way he’ll vote.”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer