What does it mean when someone says "Would you please indulge me for a couple of minutes?"?

The context in which I heard it makes it seem self-evident, but I may be wrong. Somebody was talking to another person, and the person being addressed was asked by the lecturer to please indulge him. The lecturer went so far as to say, 'I beg your indulgence.' What does this mean? I thought indulgence meant 'something enjoyed as a special pleasure': Good food is my only indulgence.

  • “Liberal or lenient treatment; tolerance” (American Heritage). – Bradd Szonye Feb 27 '14 at 0:35
  • Liberal/lenient treatment and tolerance for what? Maybe the speaker used this word incorrectly. – whippoorwill Feb 27 '14 at 0:40
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    In this context, he was probably asking them to be patient during some elaborate explanation that is likely to provoke questions, but he wants to get through the whole thing first. It's perfectly idiomatic. – Bradd Szonye Feb 27 '14 at 0:43
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    I don't understand why you think it's a misuse. It's similar to apologizing in advance and entirely natural for this sort of use. It's equivalent to asking “please humor me.” – Bradd Szonye Feb 27 '14 at 0:44
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    I agree with @BraddSzonye here. There is no misuse of "indulgence" here. Not one bit. – Cyberherbalist Feb 27 '14 at 0:48

An indulgence is also permission to do something which ordinarily might be considered in violation of some rule, such as a rule of etiquette. It is also used as permission to act or speak under the assumption that something that is ordinarily considered true or false is, for the purpose of discussion in that moment, the opposite.

In a discussion of astronomy, I might ask for the indulgence of my interlocutor to assume temporarily that something we both know is true, for example, that the earth orbits the sun, is false - that the sun orbits the earth.

It might also be taking the liberty of going off on a tangent in a discussion or lecture, covering material that doesn't relate to the topic at hand. For example, I might ask my audience's indulgence to depart from my advertised topic of central processor design to reflect upon the problem of disposal of waste material generated from the process of manufacturing computer chips.

  • Excellent explanation! I suspect this is related to church indulgences, yes? – Bradd Szonye Feb 27 '14 at 0:48
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    Phenomenal explanation! You have illuminated for me an otherwise dark path. – whippoorwill Feb 27 '14 at 0:51
  • an indulgence is a forgiveness of sin, yes. – Oldcat Feb 27 '14 at 0:51
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    Yes, @BraddSzonye, the term was used for a Catholic church doctrine that allowed communicants to purchase advance forgiveness for the commission of acts which would normally be counted as sins. – Cyberherbalist Feb 27 '14 at 0:55
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    Now that is why I like EL&U! – andy256 Feb 27 '14 at 1:30

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