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To answer this riddle, solve each of the four lines independently and put all the clues together to get a one-word final answer.

Nonsensical abstraction high up in the army;
The woman with the wheel fires the cannon.
She's very fast but only in reverse gear.
Certainly a terrorist, but only just starting.

Hint for non-mathematicians:

First line: Category Theory

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  • $\begingroup$ This chatroom seems to have turned into a discussion room for this question, if anyone wants to join in or get hints. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 19 '14 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ Well the clue does sort of imply that it's one word... that might be something $\endgroup$ – d'alar'cop Nov 20 '14 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ Please don't change your question after the fact. $\endgroup$ – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 22 '14 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Gilles - You suggest improvements and then say I shouldn't change my question??? $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 22 '14 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor I suggested improvements to get the answer that you intended. That would make a different question, since it would have different answers. $\endgroup$ – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 22 '14 at 14:12
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EXPLANATION FOLLOWED BY CONCLUSION

Nonsensical abstraction high up in the army;

"general abstract nonsense" - Possibly meaning that the lines are not to be taken as talking about the same thing. But rather that they are to be linked at a later time - i.e. that things here are not going to be strongly semantically or syntactically coupled. In general though, this line yields "CATEGORY THEORY".

The woman with the wheel fires the cannon.

St. Catherine of the Wheel (Catherine of Alexandria) was tortured and executed on a wheel. She is part of the Christian Canon (homophone of "Cannon") - "firing" may refer to inspiring vitality or possibly as in "firing clay in a kiln" (as in cementing). Regardles, this line yields "ST CATHERINE".

She's very fast but only in reverse gear.

She is the fastest thing there is - Tachyon. So, she's in reverse gear - "NOYHCAT"

Certainly a terrorist, but only just starting.

Certainly A Terrorist. Lynch mob, anyone?

The title
pray you can find the word!

This refers to very popular riddle recently by avigrail. There it referred to "prey" (as a homophone) because we're looking for a predator.

What word am I getting at here?

There only coherent thread I can tie between them all is:

CAT

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  • $\begingroup$ Well done for finding the St. Catherine reference! But that's the only religious reference (the title is just meant to refer to one of avi's riddles). You're nearly there... $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 21 '14 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Gilles - 'Fires' wasn't supposed to signify anything; I just needed to link 'woman', 'wheel', and 'cannon' into something coherent. PS: nice to see you're getting into riddles too :-) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 22 '14 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Gilles homophones are something to always be on the look for, so "cannon" vs. canon is OK in my opinion $\endgroup$ – d'alar'cop Nov 22 '14 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ but something like "certainly a terrorist initially" would be nice $\endgroup$ – d'alar'cop Nov 22 '14 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ @randal'thor “Hear the woman with the wheel fired by the cannon”, maybe? And for the last line ”Certainly a terrorist, if you shift the blame“. Then a framing question like “What word started it all?” (perhaps too obvious). $\endgroup$ – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 22 '14 at 14:06
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The answer has to be

Sarah Palin, in a parallel world where she became President of the United States.

First let's cover the basics. The “woman with the wheel” is the person who drives the country, i.e. the person at the very top. She's the head of the armed forces (“high up in the army”). We're told that she “fires the cannon”, i.e. she launches the country's weapons by herself (or at least she presses the button — other people load the cannon for her); this must refer to the atomic bomb, as other weapons are fired entirely by underlings.

So far we have the gender and position, which still leaves quite a few possibilities. We have to use the rest of the riddle to figure out who it is. The start of the riddle is a big clue: it's an “abstraction”, so this is about a fictional world! Furthermore, it's a “nonsensical” one, i.e. a counterfactual one: an alternate world where history proceeded differently.

We have a woman who's “fast”. This could be interpreted in several ways. A common meaning is one who sleeps around, but among politicians, sleeping around is far more common with men than with women. So “fast” must refer to another meaning of the word — tenacious, resistant, not fading with age. I can think of several women who came close to becoming head of state and who fit this description, so we'll need the rest of the riddle to whittle the field down to one.

“Only in reverse gear” means that she is by no means a progressive, i.e. she is a staunch conservative. This rules out, in particular, Hillary Clinton and Ségolène Royal. As for Sarah Palin, she fits the clues like a glove. She was a basketball point guard, which is a clever double meaning for the second line — the point guard passes the ball (fires the cannon) to other players, and decides which player to pass it to based on tactical considerations (hence acting as a wheel on which the ball turns).

In the final line, “terrorist” means not one who is directly violent, but one who supports a policy of scaremongering, as was the case in the US following 9-11. “How to prove it?” Her opponents were unsuccessful in demonstrating to the American public that her policies were overly strong, which is why she got elected.

The injunction to “pray” and “find the word” in the title alludes to her being Christian, which is a religion of the Word.

The “abstract nonsense” hint refers to category theory. Why point non-mathematicians at category theory? They'll have no idea what it means. “Category theory” here is thus not about the algebraic concept, but rather concerns the everyday meaning of the word “category” — the puzzle looks like math, but that's only for the surface reading, and the answer lies in another category.

I do remain puzzled by the question calling for a word rather than a name. Could this be a nickname? I can't find one that matches the clues.

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    $\begingroup$ Wow! This is an imaginative answer, but completely different from what I intended. My knowledge of politics is so tiny that I can't tell how well this fits the riddle, but I'll take your word for it and +1. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 20 '14 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ Only issue here would is the "what word am I getting at here". Unless that is a mistake we should assume the answer is a single word. Brilliant answer +1 $\endgroup$ – Oblongamous Nov 20 '14 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ I like "only in reverse gear" meaning she's quick to start damage control when her mouth runs away with her, with a common term being "back-pedaling" :P $\endgroup$ – Set Big O Nov 20 '14 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Oblongamous - I've just solved another riddle in less than 1 minute, but I just get nothing instead of a shallot sandwich! :-( $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 20 '14 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Gilles - The clues don't point to any nickname for Sarah Palin. You're barking up the wrong tree, I'm afraid. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 20 '14 at 17:01
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Not a complete solution, but maybe it can help someone else see what I'm missing.

The lines look like

cryptic crossword clues

to me. Especially since the link in your hint refers to

General abstract nonsense.

With "high up in the army" pointing to

general.

Also, "the woman with the wheel" is probably referring to

a ship (ships are usually referred to with female pronouns in English and ships have wheels/helms)

With the "firing the canon part", can the actual word that solves the second line be

artillery?

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, but d'alar'cop has already cracked the second line, and your typo 'canon' is actually correct! $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 22 '14 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor My bad. Saw your comment after I posted. Nice riddle btw. Very meta. $\endgroup$ – Joseph R. Nov 22 '14 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! :-) I've posted another one here if you're still hungry for riddles. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 22 '14 at 22:20

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