on a tangent

Idioms & Phrases

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 tangenta line or curve that touches but does not intersect with another line or curve. [Second half of 1700s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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