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I want to describe a situation when to get a south bound route you need to drive north. I'm looking for a noun. A couple possible suggestions I've seen:

"It is quite a bit of a diversion"

and

"It is quite a bit of a detour"

One could call it an "indirect route", but I'm looking for a noun, not an adjective.

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The British expression is "around the houses" –  mgb Jan 14 '12 at 4:40
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6 Answers 6

Sometimes you've got to go "the long way round". I've used that before, but never thought about it before.

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Meander is a noun that refers to a bend in a sinuous or winding river. Wikipedia notes,

...in Classical Greece the name of the river had become a common noun meaning anything convoluted and winding, such as decorative patterns or speech and ideas [...] Strabo said: "... its course is so exceedingly winding that everything winding is called meandering."

Thus, one might refer to a route as a meander, although the adjectival form meandering is more frequently heard. Some related adjectives include circuitous, roundabout, tortuous, winding, serpentine, crooked, sinuous, snaky. Some of these are also used as nouns; for example, serpentine meanings include "coiled distillation tube". One might plausibly call a winding route a serpent.

One could also say, "It's rather an excursion" to indicate that a route is unnecessarily roundabout.

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I think the problem with meander is if you describe the way someone spoke, say, as meandering, it tends to imply that they didn't actually end up making any substantive point at all. At least with circuitous, roundabout, tortuous we would normally suppose that they did have a point, which was in fact made - albeit not succinctly. So although it may work for a route (which by implication must actually end up getting to its destination), it doesn't transfer so well to other contexts. –  FumbleFingers Jan 14 '12 at 15:44
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A common turn of phrase is:

"going around your elbow to get to your thumb"

meaning a difficult method to get to something that should have been straightforward.

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Circumnavigation is a noun for, literally, heading south to go north (or vice-versa, as your first sentence contradicts your headline; or perhaps your question is going south to get north?).

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The term I would use is reverse psychology. As in "don't throw me into the briar patch."

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A route that doubles back on itself can be called a dogleg. E.g. if I want to travel by train from A to B, sometimes the fastest route is take a non-stop service that goes past B and stops at C, and then take a slow train from B to C. This is called a dogleg route.

A -------------------------> C
                      B <---
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