Is there an idiom or expression which means diverting somebody's attention with profuse talk about irrelevant things and trying to change a topic which is unpleasant to you or which you just don't want to discuss? Like this:

“Why did you lie?”

”Uh, such nice weather, isn't it? You know, last weekend when we were on vacation on the lake....”

I have heard of to talk one's head off, but as far as I understand it means just talking a lot and being boring, doesn't it?

  • Your example is hardly "diverting attention". It's outright refusing to answer the question or acknowledge that you're not answering, and it's rather passive-aggressive. Is this really the sort of situation you want to describe? I ask because the body of your question strikes me very differently from the question title. Aug 27, 2015 at 19:03
  • Just because it's a fun idiom, "Blowing smoke" or "Blowing smoke up my <backside>" is a great idom for distracting and deceiving on purpose. Aug 27, 2015 at 20:02
  • Also: “to pretend not to understand or know”
    – Mazura
    Aug 29, 2015 at 19:15
  • In your example, speaker 2 is implicitly admitting the lie and moving on. If you intended to example diversion, for speaker 2 consider something like, "Well, if you're going to consider that a lie, what would you think if I asked you about the weather? You know, if I asked 'hot enough for you?' Just last weekend when we were on vacation on the lake I asked this guy 'hot enough for you?', and he said 'how about them Yankees?' I gotta tell you, I don't follow football, and we weren't in the deep South, so I don't know what he was talking about, but...." And so on.
    – JEL
    Aug 29, 2015 at 22:42

16 Answers 16


change the subject

This is indeed an idiom in its own right.


I can't get any straight answers from you if you keep changing the subject.

  • 2
    This doesn't seem like an idiom; to me, "idiom" carries the connotation of not meaning what it literally says. In this case, the subject is assumed to refer to the subject of the conversation, and you're changing that subject. Unrelated to that, though, it's a common phrase that has the intended meaning
    – anon
    Aug 30, 2015 at 5:28
  • 1
    I agree, it's not an idiom. Aug 31, 2015 at 17:15
  • Indeed, changing the subject most certainly is a common idiom, and only feels literal because it is so common in vernacular. Counter e.g. : A hairdresser has a subject for a client, and in the process of her work, she changes the subject by cutting their hair. This is an improper use of the idiom and proves that it is an idiom. There is no way to tell from the words change the subject that it concerns talking or discussion, thus, it is a group of words established by usage that has a meaning beyond the individual words. Helps to understand what an idiom is.
    – chillin
    Sep 1, 2015 at 18:31
  • "Jack runs." is a sentence, with a subject and a predicate. To literally "change the subject," one would alter the sentence, e.g. "Jane runs." But to use the idiom change the subject properly, one might say "Jack sails," but this is literally the same subject with a different predicate, thus the meaning of change the subject is not deducible from the meaning of the individual words alone, and is only understood through its usage.
    – chillin
    Sep 1, 2015 at 18:54

I hear this given as the process of deflecting:

deflect v
To turn aside or cause to turn aside; bend or deviate.


  • Isn't deflecting more or less answering with a non-answer, rather than actually changing the subject? "Did you take the last cookie?" > "Do you think I'm a thief?" It deflects the original question, but doesn't change the subject really.
    – Flater
    Sep 1, 2015 at 10:28
  • @Flater: It's a form of subject-changing, in my view.
    – Robusto
    Sep 1, 2015 at 10:58
  • I feel this is subjective, but I find there's a difference in giving a topical answer that avoids the goal of the question, and just talking about something completely unrelated (as in OP's example, start talking about the weather without any provocation to)
    – Flater
    Sep 1, 2015 at 11:03
  • It might even be more accurate to say that subject-changing is a form of deflection, rather than the other way around.
    – Robusto
    Sep 1, 2015 at 11:04

Pivoting or dodging the question comes to mind based on how I would describe politicians.

  • 1
    This is probably the closest to capturing the meaning of OP's example. Aug 27, 2015 at 19:04
  • 1
    I think dodging the question is great and if it were the only answer I'd upvote, but I wouldn't want people to think I was upvoting "pivoting" so I guess I can't?
    – James
    Aug 29, 2015 at 7:48

Are you looking for steer the conversation away:

Example: Helen tried to steer the conversation away from her recent problems.

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From Words and Their Meaning by Howard Jackson

  • This feels like the most fitting idiom. But it could use some reference. +1 anyway.
    – Zikato
    Aug 27, 2015 at 13:03

Beat about the bush may convey the idea:

  • (Fig.) to avoid answering a question; to stall; to waste time.

    • Stop beating around the bush and answer my question. Let's stop beating about the bush and discuss this matter.

The Free Dictionary

You can find related expressions here: to change from one subject or discussion to another (www.macmillandictionary.com)

Note also the expression to dodge a question:

  • to evade (an obligation, for example) by cunning, trickery, or deceit: kept dodging the reporter's questions.

If someone answered my question with irrelevant comments, I'd probably call it evasion or evading the question.

  • This - I was wracking my brain to think of the right phrase and had this on the tip of my tongue - Fits perfectly IMHO!
    – SeanR
    Aug 28, 2015 at 8:10
  • 2
    I'd also add that someone who does this is being "Evasive".
    – SeanR
    Aug 28, 2015 at 12:24

To sidetrack

e.g. "He sidetracked my questions about the project with small talk about the weather "

which the Free Dictionary defines as

v.tr. -- 1. To divert from a main issue or course:

which derives from its literal meaning:

  1. To switch from a main railroad track to a siding.

If he is just being evasive, you can say he talked around the subject:

talk around something

to talk, but avoid talking directly about the subject.
You are just talking around the matter! I want a straight answer!
He never really said anything. He just talked around the issue.

The Free Dictionary by Farlex

However, if the purpose is to perpetuate the lie that you allude to in the example situation, then you can say he is giving you a snow job:

snow job

An effort to deceive, persuade, or overwhelm with insincere talk. For example,
Peter tried to give the officer a snow job about an emergency at the hospital but he got a speeding ticket all the same.
This slangy expression, originating in the military during World War II, presumably alludes to the idiom snow under.

The Free Dictionary by Farlex


Prevaricate maybe?

To speak or act in an evasive way

  • Wow, nice find. A single word whose only definition is that which was requested and whose idiomatic synonyms are half of these other answers. I get the feeling that if this was a comment asking, "so you want an idiom for prevaricate?", it'd have been upvoted through the roof.
    – Mazura
    Aug 29, 2015 at 19:05
  • Aww, what. Who downvoted this? If ever there was a word to replace an idiom, this would be it.
    – Mazura
    Aug 29, 2015 at 19:08
  • I won't touch it, but prevaricate is not the word you want. In your example there was nothing evasive, it was blunt trauma.
    – user116032
    Aug 30, 2015 at 4:51

Deflecting is probably the best answer — but this is also sometimes called misdirection.


Also to throw out a red herring:

Does this dress make me look fat?

Oh, look, the kitchen's on fire!


Does this dress make me look fat?

Um, you've got something on your nose.

(Finger swipe to nose. Big hug and kiss)

We need to leave soon or we'll be late. You look terrific. Is my tie straight?


go off on a tangent


Sorry, I went off on a tangent and forgot your question . . . what were we talking about?

  • Going off on a tangent is usually not intentional, though.
    – neminem
    Aug 27, 2015 at 16:20
  • @neminem Subjects are tangential purely by the relationships between their principles, not by the intent of their discussion. For example, I can go off on a tangent intentionally by announcing "Not to go on a tangent, but..."
    – talrnu
    Aug 27, 2015 at 19:57

"To throw sand (or dust) in someone's eyes" might also serve:

throw dust in someone's eyes:
Mislead someone, as in The governor's press aide threw dust in their eyes, talking about a flight at the airport when he was heading for the highway . This metaphoric expression alludes to throwing dust or sand in the air to confuse a pursuing enemy. [Mid-1700s] (thefreedictionary.com)


Filibuster from Oxford Dictionaries Online, not the OED:


an action such as a prolonged speech that obstructs progress in a legislative assembly while not technically contravening the required procedures

This word wold seem to fit your needs in that it speaks to "profuse talk" that is off topic and for the purposes of evading a topic. While the formal definition refers to an action taken in a legislative assembly,there is enough common understanding of the meaning (in the US, at least) for the word to be applied in social contexts as well.

example: I wanted to address the budget shortfall in the meeting but my boss used up all the time with a filibuster about his cats.

On a personal note, I have a coworker named Phillip who is frequently overly loquacious at inopportune moments. When this happen I usually note that I have been "Philabustered" (True story)


...profuse talk about irrelevant things...

You're looking for bloviate or its synonyms. Per Oxford Dictionaries Online, bloviate means:

Talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way.

Synonyms include yammer, blather, babble, prattle, and chatter.


"derail" the conversation -- carries the same meaning as "sidetrack" in that instead of shunting the conversation off onto another topic, you push it completely off the track.

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