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Is there a word or concise English expression for the kind of discussion that is heated, perhaps a bit contentious or pretentious, but ultimately off-topic, vague, or too abstract to be useful?

A word-picture that comes to mind are a bunch of stuffy politicians or inexperienced young professionals arguing for argument's sake, to display their knowledge or make their voice heard yet without contributing any value to the discussion at large, or worse, derailing it entirely.

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Related. –  tchrist Jun 7 at 20:49
1  
@tchrist I appreciate (what I think is) your concern, but my intention is not, as intimated in the comment you linked to, to find a harsh word to throw at conduct that I disapprove of. Rather, sometimes describing a negative behavior in terms that are easily understood is the first step toward correction, which is what I seek. –  camflint Jun 8 at 2:44

10 Answers 10

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I think the usual way of portraying this is with the phrase 'hot air'; they're not so much talking about anything important as they are just breathing at each other. Example:

The politicans could talk for hours, but all that ever came out was a lot of hot air.

Equal meaning can be derived from the terms idle talk, gas or wind, tall talk or inanity.

Of course those are nouns for describing the actual tone of the dialogue - if you want verbs describing their behaviour you could use babbling, yakking, prattling, ranting; it's all interchangeable really. My favourite for this kind of dialogue would probably be 'blathering', since it gives me the image of some old chap constantly talking without knowing what he's saying.

Hope that helps!

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I might also reference them as show-boating or posturing, but these terms are not specific to demonstrative speech, and could be used for other forms of putting on a show. –  Mike Apr 6 at 14:15
    
posturing suits my mental image well, since in my imagination I see one person after the other cutting in to argue with what the previous person said, with more interest in demonstrating his keen intellectual edge than in contributing to the conversation at large. –  camflint Apr 6 at 19:48

It isn't concise but I like the phrase:

the conversation generated more heat than light

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This is an appealing answer --- a simple analogy that sums up the meeting in a broad, but accurate stroke. –  camflint Apr 7 at 1:22

From there strategical perspective, schizothemia:

schizothemia - Digression — (parekbasis in Greek, egressio, digressio and excursion in Latin) is a section of a composition or speech that is an intentional change of subject. In Classical rhetoric since Corax of Syracuse, especially in Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian,… …

From your observational perspective the conversation was a mataeology:

mataeology - a discourse that is fruitless or in vain. — mataeologian, n. — mataeological, adj.

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Blowing hot air is a really good phrase so I will offer a concise word. I think jabber[ing] works perfect for a group of politicians arguing about nothing.

talk incessantly and trivially

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A more Southern-based (and slang) term is jibber-jabber, as in:

I got tired of listening to all their jibber-jabber.

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Some more rhythmical alternatives: claptrap, monkey-junkie, bruhaha, helter-skelter, and higgledy-piggledy.

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I've heard a number of terms from current and past jobs in corporate America that might be considered.

Useless conversation that's not solving the issue at hand because it's left the world of the strategic and become too detailed or academic may be said to be:

"going down a rat hole"
"getting in the weeds"

Correction is often initiated with phrases like:

"I think we're getting wrapped around the axle."
"Let's bring this back up to a 30,000 foot view of the problem."
"Let's keep separate issues separate."
"Our time is limited, I think we're going down a rat hole rather than focusing on the original topic."
"These are useful points to consider: let's put them in the parking lot and come back to them in a different session."
"I think we're trying to boil the ocean here."

Worst of all is a response someone may offer to someone explaining at length (or in a challenging tone of voice) a detailed part of the problem that is well-understood by almost everyone in the room. The disrespectful response to this understandably irritating situation is often simply: "Peace."

It's intent is supposed to be "I hear and understand the valid point you're making" or "you're preaching to the choir," but it's meaning in the moment often more directly resembles the speaker saying "shut up, I'm tired of hearing your gums flap."

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Thanks, I'm very familiar with phrases like these, and they are applicable to the meeting I described. I am looking more for descriptions that allude to the human causes of the problem, which these sayings tend to omit in order to be objective and non-inflammatory in the heat of the moment. –  camflint Apr 7 at 1:32

'Small talk' - it's debatable whether it is useless or pointless but it generally doesn't have any information value.

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Have you considered the term "tangent" i.e. "to go off on a tangent"?

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I've always liked the expression, twaddle. In my mind it conjures the image of someone's pompous speech or stuffy writing as being utterly nonsensical, and extremely shallow. Its tone is extremely dismissive, and is the typical British English response whenever a politician is deflecting an awkward question in a talk shows or interview.

trivial or foolish speech or writing; nonsense
silly, trivial, or pretentious talk or writing;

Other suitable synonyms that fit the OP's request would be:

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protected by tchrist Dec 13 at 17:45

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