Inspired by this chat message (text is below), I have sometimes wondered if there is a word for the feeling that a person you were talking to about a particular subject was using the same words as you, but was actually talking about something else, or was leading into a very different and seemingly unrelated subject. Typically, you feel like the person is crazy by this point.

Is there a single word for this? Is there a two- or three-word phrase, maybe?

The chat message:

There should be a word for that double-take sensation you get when you realize the conversation is further down the rabbit hole than you thought. Like when you are having what you think is a normal chat about interest rates, or something, and the other person mentions that we're all controlled by lizards from space.

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    This situation is commonly called talking past each other. I'm not aware of a word specifically for the realization that you're doing it. Oct 15, 2013 at 1:22
  • @BraddSzonye That is close, but I was thinking more along the lines that the person you are talking to is crazy too.
    – user39425
    Oct 15, 2013 at 1:33
  • Oh, you might want to write that into the question. It's a significant contextual detail. Oct 15, 2013 at 1:33
  • @BraddSzonye Got it in there. I also added the text of the chat message.
    – user39425
    Oct 15, 2013 at 2:16
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    Oh, so funny, laughed out loud. I'd call this 'misjudgement' because you assumed you were talking to someone rational and sane, who turned out to be the opposite, temporarily or otherwise. It's sometimes hard to tell, we naturally assume that others aren't bonkers.
    – bamboo
    Oct 15, 2013 at 11:25

7 Answers 7


be at cross-purposes

at cross-purposes:

If two or more people are at cross purposes, they do not understand each other because they are talking about different subjects without realizing this: I think we've been talking at cross purposes - I meant next year, not this year.

Catch the wrong pig by the ear

the porcine reference is unlikely to be flattering but might not land you in any trouble if the person is crazy and at cross-purposes the whole time.

  • This is pretty darn close. +1
    – user39425
    Oct 15, 2013 at 15:50
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    I feel this is wrong. IMO: Talking at cross-purposes is when, during an argument, in fact you BOTH ACTUALLY AGREE, you don't realize that you are both on side "A" of the argument, rather than one on "A" and one on "B". When you are just accidentally talking about completely different stuff, that's different IMO.
    – Fattie
    Sep 11, 2016 at 7:24

Talking past each other might work.

  • Nice find. It supports this answer too. I've only actually heard this phrase one other time and did not understand its use then either. I feel like the description in your link doesn't fit what the words imply. To me, the words imply that you start out on the same subject but you both diverge in different directions and both basically ignore what the other is saying, leading to two concurrent and unrelated one way conversations. I've seen this used effectively in comedies.
    – user39425
    Oct 2, 2014 at 22:49
  • What I want specifically is a word for the epiphany of one party that the other is talking about something completely different while only moments earlier you thought you were both talking about the same thing.
    – user39425
    Oct 2, 2014 at 22:51

I think your question held your answer. I would just label that chat as crazy talk.

crazy talk

Talk that makes no sense at all. Talking outta your ass. Talking stupid.

"Man that guy over by the bar is talking straight up crazy talk."

  • 1
    This certainly works, however, it just doesn't sound as cool as I was hoping. +1.
    – user39425
    Oct 15, 2013 at 15:51
  • "I'm just kidding...you can't trap a Fire Phoenix." :)
    – Wildcard
    Apr 5, 2016 at 2:57

I would say either something like a paradigm shift or maybe even an aha moment.


That's really some food for thought. "Bewildered" comes to mind, "baffled", but it's kinda hard to describe the feeling of craziness of the other person.


Try "cross-purposes epiphany". As in: "I was busily describing how interest rates are linked to the health of the economy, when he began nodding enthusiastically and referred to the influence of extra-terrestrial lizards. I was immediately and emphatically struck by a cross-purposes epiphany."


For a thing, "misinterpretation" is possible.

About persons, it would be "quid pro quo".

  • Why would it be "quid pro quo"? That phrase related to favours or advantages, not about talking nonsense. "Quid pro quo" is more closely related to "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine". Oct 15, 2013 at 8:18
  • @Matt Эллен certainly not in British English, and from the etymology. I could say "sorry, I thought you were speaking of Lady Thatcher, not the Queen, it was a quid pro quo". My answer is in the scope of the question. Oct 15, 2013 at 8:38
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    Definitely in British English. It's the only English I know. Just look at the definition. Your example sentence doesn't make sense. Oct 15, 2013 at 9:01
  • 2
    From Wikipedia, "Quid pro quo" may sometimes be used to define a misunderstanding or blunder made by the substituting of one thing for another, particularly in the context of the transcribing of a text. In this alternate context, the phrase qui pro quo is more faithful to the original Latin meaning. In French, the word "quiproquo" would perfectly fit to the cross-purposes situation described by the OP.
    – Graffito
    Nov 21, 2015 at 21:26

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