What's the intention of this sentence?

To argue around the edges

I heard it in the news that a senator should argue around the edges of some topic.

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    To not talk about the important issues, I think. – NVZ Jan 6 '17 at 17:30
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    Please see the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. – NVZ Jan 6 '17 at 17:37
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    Most examples from Google seem to support my initial assumption, i.e. To avoid talking about the important issues. But I cannot confirm this unless you explain the context. – NVZ Jan 6 '17 at 17:44
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    Thank goodness that people can still talk and not everything is googleable. All these native speakers and no one's reading is: not tackling something head-on? Well, Hot Licks comes close to it. /She wouldn't eat the sandwich. She just nibbled it around the edges/. – Lambie Jan 6 '17 at 19:32
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    I've got a long "answer" (speculation) that brings up three metaphors: 'chipping away at the iceberg' , 'elephant in the room', and "third rail of politics' . Should I share that sort of rambling 'explanation' ? – Tom22 Jan 7 '17 at 6:39

Argue around the edges is not something I hear often.

Most examples from Google seem to support the following idea, i.e.

To bring up minor issues while avoiding the important ones (or finding faults on tiny details).


News Item: Chapter 15: Arguing in the absence of good will

Otherwise the best you can expect is to 'argue around the edges' -- that is, to rouse small doubts about peripheral issues.

Tides of Consent: How Public Opinion Shapes American Politics By James A. Stimson

Those, for example, who want to limit activities in education will argue around the edges, that the programs are flawed, that money is wasted, and so forth. What they do not argue (because they know the argument is a loser) is that education isn't worth the money.

A somewhat related idiom would be:

Beat around the bushWiktionary

  1. (idiomatic) To treat a topic, but omit its main points, often intentionally.

"Please stop beating around the bush and tell me what the problem is!"

  • Note that your two examples contradict each other. And neither is really consistent with the common meaning of "beat around the bush". – Hot Licks Jan 6 '17 at 18:26
  • I think "beating around the bush" brings a major flavor of "sheepishness" to it. I think the situation where you 'argue around the edges' is when a direct approach would be self-defeating but a gradual one starts to achieve your aim – Tom22 Jan 7 '17 at 6:34

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