A tangent is an entirely different topic or direction. When you want a break from geometry class, you might ask your teacher about his hobby of woodworking, a topic that's always good for a ten-minute tangent.

Tangent is mainly a mathematical term, meaning a line or plane that intersects a curved surface at exactly one point. The non-mathematical meaning of tangent comes from this sense of barely touching something: when a conversation heads off on a tangent, it's hard to see how or why it came up. When talking about history, someone suddenly brings last night's basketball game? Definitely a tangent.

Definitions of tangent
  1. noun
    a straight line or plane that touches a curve or curved surface at only one point
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    type of:
    straight line
    a line traced by a point traveling in a constant direction; a line of zero curvature
  2. noun
    ratio of the opposite to the adjacent side of a right-angled triangle
    synonyms: tan
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    type of:
    circular function, trigonometric function
    function of an angle expressed as a ratio of the length of the sides of right-angled triangle containing the angle
  3. noun
    a message that departs from the main subject
    synonyms: aside, digression, divagation, excursus, parenthesis
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    type of:
    content, message, subject matter, substance
    what a communication that is about something is about
Word Family

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