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on a tangent

On a sudden digression or change of course, as in The professor's hard to follow; he's always off on a tangent. This phrase often occurs in the idioms fly off or go off on a tangent, as in The witness was convincing until he went off on a tangent. This expression alludes to the geometric tangent—a line or curve that touches but does not intersect with another line or curve. [ Second half of 1700s ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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