1. A stratagem or trick intended to deceive or ensnare.
2. A disarming or seductive manner, device, or procedure: the wiles of a skilled negotiator.
tr.v. wiled, wil·ing, wiles
1. To influence or lead by means of wiles; entice: “Could the Erl-king's Daughter have revealed herself to me ... she might have wiled me by the hand into the dimmest forests upon earth” (Thomas De Quincey).
2. To pass (time) agreeably: wile away a Sunday afternoon.
[Middle English wil, from Old North French, from Old Norse vēl, trick, or of Low German origin. Verb, sense 2, influenced by WHILE.]
Synonyms: wile, artifice, trick, ruse, feint, stratagem, maneuver, dodge
These nouns denote means for achieving an end by indirection or deviousness. Wile suggests deceiving and entrapping a victim by playing on that victim's weak points: “Eve yielded to the wiles of the arch tempter” (James Joyce).
Artifice refers to something especially contrived to create a desired effect: “Should the public forgive artifices used to avoid military service?” (Godfrey Sperling).
Trick implies willful deception: “The ... boys ... had all sorts of tricks to prevent us from winning” (W.H. Hudson).
Ruse stresses the creation of a false impression: “It is perfidy to use a flag of truce as a ruse to acquire military information or to play for time to retreat” (Thaddeus Holt).
Feint denotes a deceptive act calculated to distract attention from one's real purpose: “Rob ... sat staring at him, and affecting to snivel with sympathy, and making a feint of being virtuous, and treasuring up every word he said (like a young spy as he was) with very promising deceit” (Charles Dickens).
Stratagem implies carefully planned deception used to achieve an objective: “He was ... daring in the administrative stratagems he employed to bring himself to the attention of his superiors” (Joseph Heller).
Maneuver and dodge stress shifty and ingenious deception: “[He] was being accused of shady banking maneuvers and abusing his influence for his own financial gain” (Porter Shreve). “At my age one has had a considerable experience of the ins and outs, the dodges that accompany self-interest” (Saul Bellow).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.