This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Spot the frippet: tangent.

This is a lovely juicy word:


Can't you just taste the citrus?



...well, perhaps I'm getting some sort of mental short-circuit from tangerine, then...


You know about tangents, of course - though, actually, it's more off course, because if someone's gone off at a tangent then they've veered widly away from the direction upon which they appeared to be set.

Tangents are also mathematical things you get when studying triangles and circles:

The thing to remember is that tangents are to do with touching. The circles above are tangent circles because the edges touch at just one point. You might spot the top sort of tangent circles in a cartoon's eye, or you could make some with coins or carrot slices or counters.

A tangent can also be a straight line which touches a curve. A wheel sitting on a road is an easy example.

tangent space is the same sort of thing, but in 3D. Think of a mortar board:

File:Mortarboard (PSF).png

the flat top is a tangent space because it touches the curved hat-bit at one point.

If you're talking about triangles (and you never know) then tangents allow people to work out stuff about the sizes of the triangles'  sides and angles. But you can't actually see this sort of tangent, so we needn't bother with it. Phew.

Lastly, a tangent is part of the inside of a clavichord. A clavichord is a sort of old piano-type thing:

woman playing a clavichord

and the tangents are small pieces of metal that jump up and hit the strings to produce the sound.

There we are. Is there anything else? Ah yes.

Going off at a tangent is one of the great joys of life.

And, come to think about it, it's what The Word Den is largely about.

Spot the frippet: tangent. This word comes from the Latin phrase līnea tangēns, whihc means touching line.

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