English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Let's take this conversation:

Alice: What is a non sequitur?

Bob: A non sequitur is something said that, because of its apparent lack of meaning relative to what preceded it, seems absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing1. In Latin, it means "does not follow".

Alice: Oh, I get it, so if I said "It is lovely weather we are having." in a discussion about the thermodynamic properties of iron, that would count as a non sequitur, right?

Bob: Yes, because cake is very tasty.

Is the last sentence a non sequitur? After all, this is a discussion about non sequiturs, it does "follow" that someone will probably make one -- which makes it not really a non sequitur.

Or is it a matter of point of view? (To Alice, it is a non sequitur, but to me, a spectator, it isn't)

1 Copied from the Wikipedia page since I'm too lazy to write my own dialogue

share|improve this question

closed as off topic by Carlo_R., MετάEd, Kristina Lopez, Mitch, FumbleFingers Jan 30 '13 at 18:45

Questions on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange are expected to relate to English language and usage within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This makes me think of use-mention distinction. I wonder if it applies here. – Kit Z. Fox Jan 30 '13 at 15:11
This is writing/lit crit. – MετάEd Jan 30 '13 at 15:34
My cat is the oldest! – bib Jan 30 '13 at 17:05
@bib: that's as may be, but the moon isn't made of green cheese, and many a muckle doesn't make a mickle! – FumbleFingers Jan 30 '13 at 18:47
Yes I think it still is. Alice: "can you give an example of a non-sequitur?" Bob: "Because cats have legs!" is closer to the hazy territory that you are going for. – luqui Jul 13 '14 at 10:40
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Non-sequiturs make sense but are incongruous. They are defined by not referencing what has gone before. Bob's last words are nonsense, referencing what has gone before wrongly ('because').

share|improve this answer
I agree. A better example of a true non-sequitur response in this example would be, "The cake is very tasty." Even then, getting back to the original question, that could be construed as a non-sequitur remark, or as an example of a non-sequitur remark, it which case it wouldn't really be non-sequitur, because that was the original topic of the conversation. It all depends on Bob's purpose for and motivation behind that utterance. – J.R. Jan 30 '13 at 16:01

I would say yes, it's still a non-sequitur. It's perhaps less suprising because they were talking about non-sequiturs, but it still doesn't make sense in their conversation. Compare Bob's statement about cake to Alice's example about commenting on the weather. Alice's is on point, Bob's is completely off-topic.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.