Talk in Circles: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
February 11, 2024

The phrase "talk in circles" refers to a manner of communication where the speaker repeatedly discusses the same points without arriving at a conclusive or relevant endpoint. It often implies a lack of progression or resolution in conversation, where topics are revisited without new insights or developments.

In short:

  • It signifies a repetitive and non-productive form of conversation.
  • It describes situations where no progress is made despite lengthy discussions.

What Does "Talk in Circles" Mean?

The phrase "talk in circles" conveys the idea of engaging in a conversation or argument that goes nowhere. It's characterized by repetitive points, lack of clarity, and an absence of conclusive or constructive results. For instance, in a meeting where participants keep discussing the same points without reaching a decision, one might say they are "talking in circles." This phrase can be used in both professional and casual contexts.

More about the phrase's meaning:

  • It implies frustration or exhaustion from going over the same points without resolution.
  • It indicates a lack of direction or focus in conversation or discussion.
  • It suggests a deliberate strategy to avoid reaching a conclusion or making a decision.
  • It is often associated with lengthy, unproductive meetings or discussions.
  • Similar phrases include "going around in circles," "beating around the bush," and "running in place."

Where Does "Talk in Circles" Come From?

Historically, using circular imagery to depict redundancy or lack of progress has been common in various languages and cultures. The phrase "talk in circles" specifically captures this imagery, applying it to verbal communication. It suggests a situation where the speaker, intentionally or unintentionally, avoids coming to a point or conclusion, leading to a conversation that is essentially unproductive and endlessly looping back on itself.

Historical Example

Friendliness in this sense does not mean intimacy.
"I want you to buy," is the "bugbear" of most men.
talk in circles before they reach it. They are afraid or the "No."

- "Salesmanship" The Gillette Blade, 1918

10 Examples of "Talk in Circles" in Sentences

To help you understand the use of this phrase, here are some examples:

  • Both candidates seemed to talk in circles in the debate, never really answering the questions directly.
  • After hours of discussion, they realized they were just talking in circles and decided to take a break.
  • The manager was known for talking in circles whenever a difficult decision needed to be made.
  • During the meeting, it felt like they talked in circles without reaching any conclusion.
  • She felt like her therapist was talking in circles, not really addressing her concerns.
  • They talked in circles for hours but never agreed on a solution.
  • He noticed that whenever he asked for clarity, his colleague would start talking in circles.
  • The politician seemed to talk in circles in her speech, avoiding direct answers.
  • The couple talked in circles about their issues but never got to the root of the problem.
  • The candidate talked in circles during the interview, never directly addressing his qualifications.

Examples of "Talk in Circles" in Pop Culture

The phrase "talk in circles" is also commonly found in pop culture, often used in dialogues or narratives where characters are portrayed as evasive or indecisive.

Let's look at some examples:

  • In the TV show "12 Monkeys," Jennifer Goines says, "You're tired of hearing me talk in circles? I'm tired of you going around in them."
  • An article by Babette Ten Haken titled "Are You Articulate Or Do You Talk In Circles?" discusses how talking in circles can be frustrating for clients and detrimental to business communication.
  • In the book "Pitch Perfect" by Bill McGowan, the author states, "They confuse quantity with persuasiveness. So they often say the same thing over and over again, talk in circles and even tell random stories that don't connect."

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Talk in Circles"

Here are some alternative phrases that convey a similar idea:

  • Going around in circles
  • Beating around the bush
  • Running in place
  • Speaking redundantly
  • Rehashing the same points
  • Avoiding the issue
  • Dancing around the topic
  • Not getting to the point
  • Circling back repeatedly
  • Skirting the subject

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Talk in Circles":

  • What does "talk in circles" mean?

"Talk in circles" refers to engaging in a conversation where the same points are repeatedly discussed without reaching a conclusion or making progress.

  • Is "talk in circles" a negative phrase?

Generally, it's perceived negatively, suggesting unproductive or evasive communication.

  • Can "talk in circles" be used in formal contexts?

Yes, it can be used in formal contexts, often to critique unproductive discussions or meetings.

  • Does "talk in circles" always imply intentional evasion?

Not always. Sometimes, it may occur unintentionally due to lack of clarity or understanding.

  • How can I avoid talking in circles?

To avoid talking in circles, focus on being clear, concise, and purposeful in your communication.

  • Can "talk in circles" happen in written communication?

Yes, it can occur in written forms such as emails or reports where the content is repetitive and non-conclusive.

  • Are there any positive aspects to talking in circles?

In some contexts, it can help in thoroughly exploring a topic, but it generally lacks efficiency.

  • Is "talking in circles" related to specific personality types?

It's not exclusively related to specific personality types, but individuals who struggle with decisiveness might be more prone to it.

  • Can "talk in circles" be a strategy in negotiations?

Some may use it as a strategy to avoid committing to a position or to prolong discussions.

  • How can one identify when they are talking in circles?

It's often identified by repetitive arguments, lack of new information, and absence of forward movement in the conversation.

Final Thoughts About "Talk in Circles"

The idiom "talk in circles" is a descriptive way to convey the frustration of unproductive conversations. It's applicable in various contexts, from casual chats to formal meetings, and highlights the need for clarity and direction in communication.

To recap:

  • It's a phrase used to describe repetitive and non-progressive conversation.
  • It suggests a lack of clarity, direction, or resolution in discussion.
  • While commonly used in a negative context, it can also reflect the complexity of certain discussions or negotiations.

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