tangent

noun
tan·gent | \ ˈtan-jənt \

Definition of tangent 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : an abrupt change of course : digression the speaker went off on a tangent

2a : the trigonometric function that for an acute angle is the ratio between the leg opposite to the angle when it is considered part of a right triangle and the leg adjacent

b : a trigonometric function that is equal to the sine divided by the cosine for all real numbers θ for which the cosine is not equal to zero and is exactly equal to the tangent of an angle of measure θ in radians

3 : a line that is tangent specifically : a straight line that is the limiting position of a secant of a curve through a fixed point and a variable point on the curve as the variable point approaches the fixed point

4 : a small upright flat-ended metal pin at the inner end of a clavichord key that strikes the string to produce the tone

tangent

adjective

Definition of tangent (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : meeting a curve or surface in a single point if a sufficiently small interval is considered straight line tangent to a curve

b(1) : having a common tangent line at a point tangent curves

(2) : having a common tangent plane at a point tangent surfaces

2 : diverging from an original purpose or course : irrelevant tangent remarks

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Synonyms for tangent

Synonyms: Noun

aside, digression, excursion

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Examples of tangent in a Sentence

Noun

in the middle of her description of her dog's symptoms, she went off on a tangent about its cute behavior

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Trump went on an extended tangent about immigration during a roundtable in West Virginia that was designed to showcase the Republican tax cut. David S. Cloud, latimes.com, "As border crossings rise, Trump vents frustration on illegal immigration," 5 Apr. 2018 There are some odd tangents to this story that don’t really matter. Bob Ford, Philly.com, "What will the NFL do about Shady McCoy? | Bob Ford," 12 July 2018 Atlanta’ Breaks TV’s Rules ‘Atlanta,’ the FX series created by Donald Glover and directed by Hiro Murai, veers into tangents and subplots in ways nobody expected from a half-hour comedy. John Jurgensen, WSJ, "Under-the-Radar Crime Drama ‘Power’ Keeps Gaining Viewers," 27 June 2018 The comment sounded to many listeners like yet another oddball Trumpian tangent. Garrett M. Graff, WIRED, "The New Arms Race Threatening to Explode in Space," 26 June 2018 Eberflus said, before diving into a tangent on a few former players who made a similar position switch. Zak Keefer, Indianapolis Star, "Colts observations: More throws from Andrew Luck, does John Simon have a home?," 13 June 2018 More of the tangents and tentacles that a meaningful playoff series with the Rockets would have. John Canzano, OregonLive.com, "Canzano: Houston Rockets red glare too much for Lillard and Co.," 21 Mar. 2018 During Arizona’s 94-82 win over Utah on Thursday, Walton even out-did himself, moving away from absurd tangents to impersonating multiple animals. Michelle R. Martinelli, For The Win, "Bill Walton's impressions of an elephant and grizzly bear are strangely similar," 5 Jan. 2018 Those tangents often intersect with its matter-of-fact perspective on blackness, especially as race relates to ambition, struggle and success. John Jurgensen, WSJ, "How Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ Breaks TV’s Rules," 9 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tangent.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of tangent

Noun

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Adjective

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for tangent

Noun

New Latin tangent-, tangens, from linea tangens tangent line

Adjective

Latin tangent-, tangens, present participle of tangere to touch; perhaps akin to Old English thaccian to touch gently, stroke

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Learn More about tangent

Phrases Related to tangent

go off on a tangent

Statistics for tangent

Last Updated

5 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tangent

The first known use of tangent was in 1594

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More Definitions for tangent

tangent

noun

English Language Learners Definition of tangent

geometry : a line that touches a sphere or circle at only one point

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Comments on tangent

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occurring twice a year or every two years

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