wildcard (plural wildcards)

  1. (computing) A character that takes the place of any other character or string that is not known or specified.
    • 1968, Digital Equipment Corporation, VAX/VMS 319(5864), page 751, Section 2.1.2 Using Wildcard Characters
      A wildcard character is a symbol that you can use with many DCL commands to apply the command to several files at once, rather than specifying each file individually.
    If the character * is acting as a wildcard, then the pattern a*m matches each of the words amalgam, atom and alum.
  2. (also written wild card) An uncontrolled or unpredictable element.
    • 2008 February 8, Eli Kintisch, "From Gasoline Alleys to Electric Avenues" , Science 319(5864), page 751
      There are several technical wildcards, such as how the larger battery packs--four times larger than those of the Prius--will withstand the rigors of city driving, […]
  3. (also written wild card) An element, often deliberately concealed, which is withheld for contingency.
  4. (sports, card games) Alternative form of wild card

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