From Latin tangentem, the accusative of tangēns (“touching”) (in the phrase līnea tangēns (“a touching line”)), the present participle of the verb tangō (“touch”, verb), from Proto-Indo-European *tag-, *taǵ- (“to touch”). Cognate with Old English þaccian (“to touch lightly, pat, stroke”). More at thack, thwack.
tangent (plural tangents)
- (geometry) A straight line touching a curve at a single point without crossing it there.
- (trigonometry) In a right triangle, the ratio of the length of the side opposite the angle to the length of the side adjacent to the angle. Symbols: tan, tg
- A topic nearly unrelated to the main topic, but having a point in common with it.
- I believe we went off onto a tangent when we started talking about monkeys on unicycles at his retirement party.
1928, Lawrence R. Bourne, chapter 1, Well Tackled!:
- “Uncle Barnaby was always father and mother to me,” Benson broke in; then after a pause his mind flew off at a tangent. “Is old Hannah all right—in the will, I mean?”
- 2009: Stuart Heritage, Hecklerspray, Friday the 22nd of May in 2009 at 1 o’clock p.m., “Jon & Kate Latest: People You Don’t Know Do Crap You Don’t Care About”
- Jon & Kate Plus 8 is a show based on two facts: (1) Jon and Kate Gosselin have eight children, and (2) the word ‘Kate’ rhymes with the word ‘eight’. One suspects that if Kate were ever to have another child, a shady network executive would urge her to put it in a binbag with a brick and drop it down a well. But this is just a horrifying tangent.
- A small metal blade by which a clavichord produces sound.
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tangent (not comparable)
- (geometry) Touching a curve at a single point but not crossing it at that point.
- Of a topic, only loosely related to a main topic.
- “tangent” in le Trésor de la langue française informatisé (The Digitized Treasury of the French Language).