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What would I call a topic or question with an unreachable (or almost so) conclusion? Example:

It is difficult to write a paper about the meaning of life because the topic is so _______.

or:

Political discussions at the Thanksgiving table are ________.

A similar term is a metaphysical question, but I am looking for a word/short phrase that more conveys the unlikelihood of coming to a definitive answer/conclusion. I searched Google and came up with nothing.

12 Answers 12

25

You can borrow the term for unsolvable mathematical problems which are said to be intractable

Not able to be solved (of a mathematical problem)

-- Wiktionary

21
  1. It is futile to write a paper about the meaning of life because the topic is so unfathomable
  2. Political discussions at the Thanksgiving table are futile

(OD) unfathomable, Incapable of being fully explored or understood.

8

inconclusive (although you might have to reword your sentences slightly for them to sound right)

Google's definition:

not leading to a firm conclusion or result; not ending doubt or dispute.[1]

Cambridge Dictionary's definition:

not giving or having a result or decision[2]

  • 2
    It works, but (at least imo) it connotates something that already happened (the study was inconclusive) rather than the topic itself. +1, as this is the best thing I have so far. Thanks! – OldBunny2800 Nov 29 '17 at 22:33
  • 1
    Sorry to be a pedant, but the verb that gives rise to the noun ‘connotation’ is ‘connote’. – Tuffy Nov 30 '17 at 0:05
7

The usual descriptor, at least for your second example, is interminable.

RHK Webster's gives

interminable adj.

  1. having no apparent limit or end; unending: an interminable job.

CED lists the hyperbolic usage as being the most usual:

interminable continuing for too long and therefore boring or annoying

  • Indeed, my experience is that the meaning "boring" is by far the most common, and therefore I think using to mean simply "unending", as in this context, would probably not be correctly understood by most listeners. – Nate Eldredge Nov 30 '17 at 21:14
5

For your first sentence, "It is difficult to write a paper about the meaning of life because the topic is so broad."

ODD 2 Covering a large number and wide scope of subjects. ‘the company has a broad range of experience’

In this specific example, unless one is discussing Douglas Adams, the scope of the topic is too large to lead to a reachable conclusion.

For your second, "Political discussions at the Thanksgiving table are interminable."

ODD Endless or apparently endless (often used hyperbolically) ‘we got bogged down in interminable discussions’

The two topics that I avoid at Thanksgiving are Religion and Politics. In both cases, a right conclusion depends on your beliefs. I find that when someone's core beliefs differ from my own we tend to talk past each other leading to no conclusion. So when anyone brings up Politics or Religion at Thanksgiving my response is, "Can you please pass the stuffing?"

  • There you go, citations and all. – MikeJRamsey56 Dec 7 '17 at 0:13
4

When I first read the question, I got biased by the example of the "meaning of life" topic. Thinking about that, I came up with the list of words below:

  • Inscrutable

    Not readily investigated, interpreted, or understood.

    -- Merriam-Webster

    Difficult or impossible to comprehend, fathom or interpret.

    -- Wikitionary

  • Enigmatic

    Of, relating to, or resembling an enigma.

    -- Merriam-Webster

    Pertaining to an enigma.

    Defying description.

    -- Wikitionary

Although, after double reading the question and the comments, I think I have more appropiate suggestions:

  • Controversial

    Of, relating to, or arousing controversy.

    -- Merriam-Webster

    Arousing controversy — a debate or discussion of opposing opinions.

    -- Wikitionary

  • Speculative

    Involving, based on, or constituting intellectual speculation; also : theoretical rather than demonstrable.

    -- Merriam-Webster

    Characterized by speculation; based on guessing, unfounded opinions, or extrapolation.

    -- Wikitionary

3

I think the two example sentences call for two different words. I will only address the second.

Political discussions at the Thanksgiving table are Sisyphean

Unless all of your fellow diners are of like mind politically, discussing politics with them at Thanksgiving is like the punishment of Sisyphus.

3

From the comments, @DanBron suggested the word moot. This is the word I decided to use, as it provided the meaning I was looking for:

subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty, and typically not admitting of a final decision.

"whether the temperature rise was mainly due to the greenhouse effect was a moot point"

synonyms: debatable, open to discussion/question, arguable, questionable, at issue, open to doubt, disputable, controversial, contentious, disputed, unresolved, unsettled, up in the air

"a moot point"

From Google Dictionary

Thank you all for your great suggestions!

  • 1
    Note that in British English, "a question is moot" means "a question has become irrelevant". For example: "Whether Bernie Sanders could beat Trump is moot because Bernie lost the Democratic election." – Martin Bonner supports Monica Dec 1 '17 at 11:21
  • That is true in AmE as well, but this is another meaning. – OldBunny2800 Dec 1 '17 at 12:58
2

Each blank provided here could have its own words that convey the meaning desired in each case. To find a word that applies in both cases, let's break down the example sentences to see what is really being declared.

It is difficult to write a paper about the meaning of life because the topic is so

  • broad

  • lacking concrete definition

  • peculiar to the individual

  • opinion-based

  • subjective

  • vast

Political discussions at the Thanksgiving table are

  • broad

  • lacking concrete definition

  • peculiar to the individual

  • opinion-based

  • subjective

  • vast

The expressions we're left with common to both example sentences are focused on the aspects of these topics that are dependent on the perspective of an individual. The real reason a Thanksgiving dinner discussion won't reach a conclusion is because everyone's perspective is different, and the reason writing about the meaning of life is difficult is because finding meaning in life is a task unique to every individual.

Based on this, I suggest subjective, citing OED definition 4.a.

Of, relating to, or proceeding from an individual's thoughts, views, etc.; derived from or expressing a person's individuality or idiosyncrasy; not impartial or literal; personal, individual.

1

Vexatious: causing or tending to cause annoyance, frustration, or worry.

Idiosyncratic: synonyms are distinctive, individual, individualistic, characteristic, peculiar, typical, special, specific, unique, one-of-a-kind, personal.

1

'It is difficult to write a paper about the meaning of life because the topic is so profound.'

'Political discussions at the Thanksgiving table are profound.'

The OED gives numerous meanings for this word and here I have tried to sum up the meanings and quotations which are most relevant to the Question :

A I. Of non-physical depth.

a. Of a field of knowledge, intellectual topic, etc.: demanding deep study, research, or consideration; containing great depths of meaning and import; (of meaning or significance) deep, important.

1739 D. Hume Treat. Human Nature I. iv. 332 So far from being able by our senses merely to determine this question, we must have recourse to the most profound metaphysics to give a satisfactory answer to it.

1874 H. Sidgwick Methods of Ethics 245 A fundamental conflict of ideas, which appears more profound and far-reaching in its consequences the more we examine it.

1

The situation which you describe could be called an impasse

Courtesy of Google:

im·passe noun: a situation in which no progress is possible, especially because of disagreement; a deadlock.

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