Posted by RRC on April 15, 2008 at 14:35:
In Reply to: Go off on a tangent posted by Baceseras on April 15, 2008 at 13:42:
: : : : : What does 'go off on a tangent' mean?
: : : : Regarding conversation, it means talk off topic. The person is talking about Subject 1 and gets distracted and starts talking about Subject 2. Or if a person is housecleaning, finds a box of old pictures and abandons the original job to research the photos, that's going off on a tangent. Tangent means "diverging from an original purpose or course" (Merriam-Webster).
: : : Quite right, but I wish Merriam-Webster had related the word to its original meaning. Tangent means, in L@tin, touching. Remember "Noli me tangere"? Most people encounter it in high school geometry, where two lines touch, but don't cross. Thus, going of on a tangent means going off on a line that touches the original one, but takes a different course. We're having, say, a discussion of hair-styling, and Barbara goes off on a tangent with a history of bobby pins. Hair-styling touches on bobby pins, but they are incidental to the main topic.
: : : SS
: : Is there an idiomatic expression for intentional going off on a tangent as explained in the last case by SS? That is, going off on a different line in order to avoid a conversation on the original one? Thank you.
: "Ducking the issue," "dodging the issue," "sidestepping," etc.
Evidentally, someone took some kind of non-Euclidean geometry in high school. Two lines cannot touch without either crossing or being the same line in normal geometry. Also, the definition given from Merriam-Webster is 2). 1) is in fact about geometry - you get your wish...
1 a: meeting a curve or surface in a single point if a sufficiently small interval is considered b : having a common tangent line at a point : having a common tangent plane at a point