Consider this conversation:

John: I am giving free chess lessons.
Mary: Nice! You’re a true teacher.
John: How so?
Mary: A true teacher imparts knowledge without a price tag.
John: But what if teaching is his only source of income? Would he not be a “true” teacher then?
Mark (in response to the question above): You clearly mentioned “free chess lesson”.

I don’t see how Mark’s comment adds anything to the discussion or makes sense in the current discussion. It is “redundant” — that’s one word for it — but is there a more fitting word?

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    obtuse? irrelevant? OneLook suggests 'nonsense – Mitch Jul 13 '14 at 15:59
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    What I want to know is why Mark decided to butt in on John and Mary’s conversation. – tchrist Jul 13 '14 at 16:29
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    It sounds like Mark wants to get back to the topic of chess lessons, rather than "true teachers". – Jacob Krall Jul 14 '14 at 5:27
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    From Mark's point of view it's Mary that has taken the conversation off on a tangent. – Rupe Jul 14 '14 at 10:01
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    Any further comment would be moot. – Jodrell Jul 15 '14 at 14:15

17 Answers 17


The best I can think of is "non sequitur," which means a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement.

Also, maybe it is a boondoggle (Work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value).

Otherwise, it is picayune (worthless, petty).

I'd go with non sequitur.

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    It's not a non sequitur unless it is completely from left field. An example would be. "I'm giving free chess lessons", and the response being "I like turtles" would be a non sequitur – stephenbayer Jul 14 '14 at 15:06
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    @stephenbayer: The definition given here is correct: does not follow. The statement may have subject matter in common with the conversation and still be a non sequitur. – Daniel Jul 14 '14 at 20:59
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    I've never heard it used that way in my life. the link at merriam-webster.com/dictionary/non%20sequitur states 'a statement that is not connected in a logical or clear way to anything said before it' The "anything said before it" is what I am talking about. It is predominately used to mean a statement that is completely out of the context of the current discussion, at least in U.S. english. – stephenbayer Jul 14 '14 at 22:19
  • I will always upvote an answer that makes proper use of the word "Boondoggle". – Zibbobz Jul 15 '14 at 13:54

I think superfluous might do the trick.

superfluous: not necessary or relevant; uncalled-for (...) serving no useful purpose; having no excuse for being;

Source: The Free Dictionary.

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non sequitur (OK, 2 words), off-topic, irrelevant, ..., depending on the context.

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How about non-constructive? It subtly implies uselessness and irrelevancy.

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Mark's comment would be either irrelevant or (archaic) impertinent to John's last question. Impertinent in its modern usage would carry the connotation that the distraction from the question is rude.

From Chambers:

  • irrelevant "not connected with or applying to the subject in hand"
  • impertinent "old use or law not relevant or pertinent"
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  • @Kai That is the modern connotation, as I'd already noted in my answer. – ClickRick Jul 14 '14 at 17:14
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    Non-pertinent would be an easily-understood modern form – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jul 14 '14 at 20:03

I like the term inane for this type of comment, which means senseless. The word can also mean empty, which might be appropriate in this situation too.

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I don’t see how Mark’s comment adds anything to the discussion or makes sense in the current discussion. It is “redundant” — that’s one word for it — but is there a more fitting word?

Firstly, Mark's comment is most definitely not "redundant", as that connotes superfluousness due to duplication. Your question is based on the belief that Mark's comment is unrelated or logically unconnected, not excessive.

Following your line of reasoning that Mark's comment is unconnected to the previous statement, then it would be properly labelled, "superfluous", "irrelevant", or "a non sequitur".

However, I take exception to your basic premise here, that Mark's comment is unconnected to the previous statement. My reading of the example you give is that John's last statement, "But what if teaching is his only source of income? Would he not be a 'true' teacher then?" breaks the continuity of the discussion by comparing Mary's generalization about teachers to a hypothetical situation that appears to be contrary to the context. If that is the case, then Mark is justified in pointing this out.

That is, if John giving a free lesson is normal, then he may be a "true teacher" by Mary's definition, and his question about teaching as a source of income is inconsistent with the situation and deserves to be cut short to keep the conversation on topic.

However, if John makes a living charging for chess lessons, but he states in front of Mary that he will give a free lesson, then Mark's comment may be read as a cynical inference that John's motives are suspect.

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  • Agree, if @Wes post reflects an author then "(in response to the question above):" should be taken as truth. Yet if this was a recounting of a discussion, unless OP is "Mark", then the parenthetical "(in response..." is not an objective fact. As I see it, Mark is trying to get back the the original premise of "free" - much like this answer asserts. – chux - Reinstate Monica Jun 3 '16 at 18:25

Useless. Or just bad.

You expect comments to be of some use in finding a solution to your problem, and when they don't, they're simply useless.

A good comment helps you solve the problem, and a bad one doesn't.

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    I just thought that in this case a more common word would be better than a rarely used one :p – user1306322 Jul 13 '14 at 22:14

A flippant remark.

But seriously, I can’t think of anything.

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  • A vastly underrated contribution – andy256 Jul 14 '14 at 23:36

Picking up on Codex24's insight, but taking it in a different direction:

It's John, not Mark, who takes the conversation off course. Mary's definition of true teacher has no bearing on how a teacher earns a livelihood but rather on how deeply (or "truly") that teacher is committed to the art/craft/profession of teaching. Just as a true artist might be said to be an artist who creates art regardless of its monetary value, so a true practitioner of any a/c/p might be one who feels compelled to practice that a/c/p whether anyone will pay or not, and will offer it, at least occasionally, gratis.

Mark's remark may thus be less a superfluity than an oblique objection to John's seemingly uncomprehending and rebuking reply to Mary. Yes, of course, a true teacher, on Mary's definition, may make a living by teaching, but only if that teacher also sometimes teaches "off the clock" because of a deep love of teaching and learning. Ironically, Mary's definition is clearly meant as a compliment to John, who--like many recipients of compliments--promptly rejects it, by challenging the validity of its premise.

On this analysis, the answer to the OP's question might be that Mark's comment, far from being irrelevant (or obtuse, erroneous, picayune, worthless, petty, impertinent, tangential, flippant, inane, or senseless), is actually an attempt to steer the conversation back into the course set by Mary.

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  • No true Scotsman would ever charge for Chess Lessons! – user126158 May 10 '16 at 0:47

I don’t think this is the right answer, but the mathematical term orthogonal comes to mind. From Wikipedia:

mathematical relations thought of as describing non-overlapping, uncorrelated, or independent objects of some kind.

Maybe that will lead to some interesting ideas?

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    Also mathematical but used more often in relation to conversations is tangential. In the example, one could say that Mary takes the conversation off on a tangent and Mark tries to bring it back to the original topic. I think these are good words here because I disagree with the OP's contention that Mark's comment is "redundant" or "adds nothing" or any of the negative things now being attributed to it in other answers. – Rupe Jul 14 '14 at 10:09

Such a comment could be called a throwaway comment. The reason for it should be self-evident.

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    And one-liner answers could be called throwaway answers. :) – tchrist Jul 15 '14 at 17:18

You might use the word vacuous to describe a useless statement.

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Makes no sense and adds nothing to the conversation are two expressions which can be but are not necessarily similar. Here it could be argued that the last statement makes sense but adds nothing to the conversation — it simply points out what has already been said and maybe gives us an insight into Mark’s logical abilities or comprehension.

Non sequitur might be allowable but this term has a specific meaning. It literally means does not follow and is used in formal logic as a description of a logical fault. For example:

All trees are green, The Hulk is green, therefore The Hulk is a tree.

Although it adds nothing to the conversation, there is no logical fault in the example and I would therefore suggest that non sequitur is not the best choice here.

That others have argued that there might be some relationship between Mark’s statement and the proceeding conversation implies that irrelevant wouldn’t be appropriate either. If Mark had said Your name is John, then that would better fit the meaning of irrelevant.

In this example I would probably go with something like inconsequential, which fits situations where the statement’s validity does not bear on the issue being discussed even though it might be related to the issue.

I think all the words proffered by other answers could be used and that the right choice of word to describe Mark’s statement would depend on when and to whom you were describing it.

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I’m not sure that I’ve correctly understood the question, but I’d probably use white noise for this situation. This term is often used in certain fields to describe a received signal of unrelated, random (or at least apparently random) data.

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  • Maybe that means that you haven't understood the question. – user126158 May 10 '16 at 0:49
  • That came across a bit rude. Well, it would be nice if you could enlighten me. – mafu May 10 '16 at 7:32
  • Oh, gosh. Sorry. I was trying to be funny. My fault. Well, The Answer seemed a bit unrelated and random, in the context of the Question. I am not sure that very many people use the phrase "white noise" in any case, so it would seem unrelated to most people even if it was. I guess it is a bit self-referential. Where did all these technical and electronics related phrases come to be used completely out of context? Head trauma, I suppose. – user126158 May 10 '16 at 11:45
  • alright, got it :) – mafu May 10 '16 at 12:36

The first word that came to mind to me was nonsensical.

"(of words or language) having little or no meaning; making little or no sense..."

Also (Miriam Webster)
"conceived or made without regard for reason or reality"

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  • In other words, most conversation. – user126158 May 10 '16 at 0:48

A wise crack is what should be used to describe this situation.

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    We in general prefer longer, more explanatory answers over brief one-liners. – tchrist Jul 15 '14 at 17:02

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