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tangential (tan-JEN-shuhl) adjective

1. Only slightly relevant to the matter in hand; digressive; divergent.

2. Merely touching.

3. Mathematics: Of or pertaining to the nature of a tangent.

[From Latin tangent-, tangens, present participle of tangere (to touch).]

The word tangential has numerous cousins, words derived from the same root: tax, contact, attain, intact, tact, taste, tangible, tactile. What an unlikely bunch of words to come out of the same parent! What's common in all is the idea of touching (or not, as in case of "intact"). -Anu

"Matsch refused to give in to delaying tactics, tangential arguments or TV cameras - all of which played large roles in the Simpson case." Dignity Back in Court; Chicago Sun-Times; Jun 2, 1997.

"Lucidly and economically written, the book gives us just enough explanatory background, just enough history, just enough atmosphere so that we have some sense of context yet never feel that (Hilary) Spurling is rambling or becoming mired in the tangential." Francine Prose; The Colors of His Imagination; The Washington Post; Oct 25, 1998.

This week's theme: words from mathematics that have other meanings as well.


Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter. -John Keats, poet (1795-1821)

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