angels dancing on the head of a pin

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

An allusion to the theological question “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” — a question cited to debunk mediaeval angelology in particular and scholasticism in general. The point is that explorative discussions that the discussants consider important can be academic in both senses of that word—not only arcane but also irrelevant.

Noun[edit]

angels dancing on the head of a pin pl (plural only)

  1. (figuratively) The subject of arcane intellectual speculation; used as an example subject of enquiry the pursuit of which is of no value.
    • 1965, United States Congress House Government Operations, Procurement of a Cryogenic Cooling System for Fighter Aircraft: Hearing, 89-1, June 8–9, 1965, page 47:
      We are not talking about angels dancing on the head of a pin here.
    • 1995, Julian Lincoln Simon, The State of Humanity, page 358:
      …logically indistinguishable from the argument that because we do not know at what rate the angels dancing on the head of a pin are dying off…
    • 2001, William C. Gaventa & David L. Coulter, The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger, page 6:
      The issues Dr. Wolfensberger wrestles with and writes about are not intellectual discussions of angels dancing on the head of a pin.

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