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When you ask someone a question and they provide a factually correct but irrelevant answer how can you describe that answer with a few choice words indicating your poor opinion of the answer?

I'm thinking that 'a **'s answer' might work for profane usage but a non-profane version would be helpful.

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If the answer is accurate as well as useless, there's something wrong with the question. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 20 '13 at 10:34
Well done, you've provided a perfect example –  A Pale Shadow Mar 20 '13 at 11:17
@APaleShadow Q.E.D. I think you've just proved that there's something wrong with your question. –  coleopterist Mar 20 '13 at 11:53
Perhaps "factually correct but irrelevant" would be a better description than "accurate but useless". –  Fortiter Mar 20 '13 at 12:16
Irrelevant, not germane, tangential, misdirected. –  Mitch Mar 20 '13 at 12:21
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closed as not a real question by tchrist, coleopterist, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, Robusto, waiwai933 Mar 20 '13 at 15:31

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1 Answer

I'm going to propose that a technically correct but inapplicable or irrelevant answer is a lawyer's answer or politician's answer. I know you wanted a non-profane term, and I would not use such mockery in formal written communication, but in spoken conversation I think you would be understood and tolerated (except when there are lawyers or politicians in the room).

There is an old joke:

A man in a hot air balloon begged a passerby, "I'm lost, can you tell me where I am?"

The passerby replied, "You are in a hot-air balloon, hovering about 30 feet above the ground."

The balloonist retorted angrily, "You must be a lawyer."

"I am," said the passerby. "How did you know?"

"Because you've given me information that is completely accurate yet completely useless."

The passerby responded, "And you must be a client."

"How so?" asked the balloonist.

"Because you don’t know where you are, or where you are going, and you expect me to solve your problem. You are in the exact same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault."

There are many versions of this joke where the balloonist is a management or politicial official or a customer, and the passerby is some other kind of professional or theoretician (accountant, engineer, economist, physicist), but in the English-speaking countries I'm familiar with, empty words go with lawyers and politicians.

I thought of spurious or specious answers or sophistry, but these words indicate falsehood or illogic masked as truth or logic, whereas the question requires that the answers be accurate. Otherwise, any synonym for pointless should suffice.

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When I hear this joke, the passerby is a mathematician. –  Peter Shor Mar 20 '13 at 15:14
That joke was precisely what I thought of when I saw this question's title. (Though I usually hear it with the passerby being a computer support person of some type.) –  Marthaª Mar 20 '13 at 15:28
@PeterShor, but mathematicians don't usually get blamed for things, so the second part of the joke doesn't work. –  Marthaª Mar 20 '13 at 15:29
@Martha: When it's told about mathematicians, the second part of the joke is left out completely. –  Peter Shor Mar 20 '13 at 15:31
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