strat·​a·​gem | \ ˈstra-tə-jəm How to pronounce stratagem (audio) , -ˌjem \

Definition of stratagem

1a : an artifice or trick in war for deceiving and outwitting the enemy
b : a cleverly contrived trick or scheme for gaining an end
2 : skill in ruses or trickery

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Choose the Right Synonym for stratagem

trick, ruse, stratagem, maneuver, artifice, wile, feint mean an indirect means to gain an end. trick may imply deception, roguishness, illusion, and either an evil or harmless end. the tricks of the trade ruse stresses an attempt to mislead by a false impression. the ruses of smugglers stratagem implies a ruse used to entrap, outwit, circumvent, or surprise an opponent or enemy. the stratagem-filled game maneuver suggests adroit and skillful avoidance of difficulty. last-minute maneuvers to avert bankruptcy artifice implies ingenious contrivance or invention. the clever artifices of the stage wile suggests an attempt to entrap or deceive with false allurements. used all of his wiles to ingratiate himself feint implies a diversion or distraction of attention away from one's real intent. a feint toward the enemy's left flank

Did You Know?

A "stratagem" is any clever scheme - sometimes one that's part of an overall "strategy" (i.e., a carefully worked out plan of action). Clearly, we no longer limit ourselves to the original military sense of "stratagem" as 15th-century users of the term did. The military meaning can be traced back to the word's Greek ancestor strategema, which is itself based on strategein, meaning "to act as a general." "Strategein" in turn comes from "strategos" ("general"), which comes from "stratos" ("army") and "agein" ("to lead"). "Strategos" is an ancestor of "strategy" as well.

Examples of stratagem in a Sentence

tried various stratagems to get the cat into the carrier, but the feisty feline was wise to them all
Recent Examples on the Web The Green Revolution—essentially the promotion of capital-intensive industrial agriculture—was more of a Cold War stratagem than a humanitarian initiative, as recent histories have forcefully argued. Aniket Aga, Scientific American, "Farm Protests in India Are Writing the Green Revolution's Obituary," 24 Jan. 2021 That uncertainty is compounded by the fact that three state legislatures would have to intercede for Trump’s new stratagem to pay off. Ian Macdougall, ProPublica, "The Long Odds Facing Trump’s Attempts to Get State Legislatures to Override Election Results," 20 Nov. 2020 The authors believed this stratagem to be worse than electoral fool’s gold. Kyle Sammin, Washington Examiner, "The Real Majority at 50," 12 Nov. 2020 That scribes are accusing their agents of breaching fiduciary duties by collecting packaging fees could have AMC looking to employ some sort of divide-and-conquer stratagem at the Walking Dead trial. Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Walking Dead' Trial Judge Asked to Ban Profane Emails, Talk of Writers-Agents War," 12 Aug. 2020 Her Covid-19 coping stratagem predictably involves decluttering, but not for the purpose of allaying boredom or even making a germ-free home. Anne Quito, Quartz at Work, "Marie Kondo’s strategy for finding joy at home during the coronavirus quarantine," 1 Apr. 2020 In order to be separated from animal continuity, the first stratagem was the mask, camouflage. New York Times, "‘The Celestial Hunter,’ by Roberto Calasso: An Excerpt," 28 Apr. 2020 Second, the savings stem from shelter-in-place orders, a novel government stratagem to control a pandemic. Alex Davies, Wired, "A Coronavirus Silver Lining: Less Driving, Fewer Crashes," 27 Apr. 2020 Cancer patients who steer between the Scylla of alarmism and the Charybdis of defeatism have devised oblique stratagems to navigate the difficult passageway of fearful vigilance. Susan Gubar, New York Times, "What Cancer Has Taught Me About Fear," 15 Apr. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'stratagem.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of stratagem

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for stratagem

Italian stratagemma, from Latin strategema, from Greek stratēgēma, from stratēgein to be a general, maneuver, from stratēgos general, from stratos camp, army (akin to Latin stratus, past participle, spread out) + agein to lead — more at stratum, agent

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The first known use of stratagem was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

1 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Stratagem.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for stratagem



English Language Learners Definition of stratagem

formal : a trick or plan for deceiving an enemy or for achieving a goal


strat·​a·​gem | \ ˈstra-tə-jəm How to pronounce stratagem (audio) \

Kids Definition of stratagem

: a clever trick or plan

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