tangent

1 of 2

noun

tan·​gent ˈtan-jənt How to pronounce tangent (audio)
1
: an abrupt change of course : digression
the speaker went off on a tangent
2
a
: 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

2 of 2

adjective

1
a
: 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

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
But World Within a Song allows Tweedy to go full nerd, not as a tangent to a story but as the story itself. Pitchfork, 20 Nov. 2023 But midway through the hearing, it was dragged off course by a predictable tangent: the fact that TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Adi Robertson, The Verge, 31 Jan. 2024 There and at the Toledo Museum of Art, curators stretched for every tangent to pummel us with woke cant. Brian T. Allen, National Review, 21 Dec. 2023 The chef and owner behind three restaurants here has gone off on a tangent about sushi in America. Tim Carman, Washington Post, 20 Dec. 2023 Each word might spring the narrator into a new scene or tangent — or serve as a barb to hang her up for a page or paragraph. Lynn Steger Strong, Los Angeles Times, 15 Nov. 2023 Trump has also made factual mistakes while on the stump during his off-script tangents. Lalee Ibssa, ABC News, 31 Oct. 2023 Moore rarely gives a straightforward answer to questions, preferring stories to sound bites, and tends to race off on lively tangents. Lexi Pandell, WIRED, 31 Aug. 2023 The idea of taking a segment from the grandfather of all vampire tales, that falls somewhere between a tangent and a trivia-question answer, then turning it into a two-hour movie is one of the more curious bits of intellectual-property raiding in recent memory. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 11 Aug. 2023
Adjective
By 1643, René Descartes had discovered a simple relationship between the curvatures of any four circles that are tangent to each other. Quanta Magazine, 10 Aug. 2023 That leaves us with the tangent function. Rhett Allain, Wired, 14 Mar. 2022 Directly above the Sun, dipping down to touch the halo (the math term for this is osculating, which means kissing) is a gull-wing curve called the tangent arc. Phil Plait, Discover Magazine, 1 Nov. 2012 This imaginary friend guides him through the tangent universe, encourages him to commit a series of crimes, and ends up triggering a chain of supernatural events. Anatola Araba, ELLE, 1 Sep. 2022 An early tangent veers into naval warfare, with various forces fighting for crucial shipping lanes. Darren Franich, EW.com, 19 Aug. 2022 Austin’s former president then went on a tangent talking about Reese’s eggs, Cap’n Crunch and berries. Frank Pallotta, CNN, 17 Apr. 2022 Remember, varieties can live within varieties, the way the non-tangent intersection of a line and a circle creates a subvariety of two points. Quanta Magazine, 3 Feb. 2022 The team named their kernel the neural tangent kernel, based on some of its geometric properties. Quanta Magazine, 11 Oct. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tangent.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

Noun

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Adjective

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of tangent was in 1594

Dictionary Entries Near tangent

Cite this Entry

“Tangent.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tangent. Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

tangent

1 of 2 adjective
tan·​gent ˈtan-jənt How to pronounce tangent (audio)
: touching a curve or surface at only one point
a straight line tangent to a circle

tangent

2 of 2 noun
1
: a trigonometric function that for an acute angle in a right triangle is the ratio of the side opposite the angle to the side next to it
2
: a line that is tangent
3
: a sudden change of course
the speaker went off on a tangent
tangential
tan-ˈjen-chəl
adjective
tangentially
-ˈjench-(ə-)lē
adverb
Etymology

Adjective

from Latin tangent-, tangens "touching," from tangere "to touch" — related to contact, tactile, tangible

More from Merriam-Webster on tangent

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