Circumstantial speech (also referred to as circumstantiality) is the result of a so called "non-linear thought pattern" and occurs when the focus of a conversation drifts, but often comes back to the point. In circumstantiality, apparently unnecessary details and seemingly irrelevant remarks cause a delay in getting to the point.
If someone exhibits circumstantial speech during a conversation, they will often seem to "talk the long way around" to their point, which may be an attempt by the speaker to include pertinent hyperspatial details, that may contrast with linear speech, which is more direct, succinct, and to the point (the gist) even at the expense of more precise, accurate communication. Some individuals with autistic tendencies may prefer highly precise speech, and this may seem circumstantial, but in fact it is a choice that posits that more details are necessary to communicate a precise meaning, and preempt more disastrous ambiguous communication.
Circumstantial speech is more direct than tangential speech in which the speaker wanders and drifts (in order to add more thought vectors in unrelated hyperplanes) and usually never returns to the original topic, and is far less severe than logorrhea. A helpful metaphor is traveling to a destination. If someone is thinking and speaking linearly, then they will go directly to the point. Circumstantial speech is more like taking "unnecessary" detours, according to some, but the speaker eventually arrives at the intended destination. In tangential speech, the speaker simply gets lost along the way, never returning to the original topic of conversation. With logorrhea, which is closer to word salad, it may not even be clear that the speaker had a particular idea or point in the first place.
A person afflicted with circumstantiality has slowed thinking and invariably talks at length about irrelevant and trivial details (i.e. circumstances). Eliciting information from such a person can be difficult since circumstantiality makes it hard for the individual to stay on topic. In most instances however, the relevant details are eventually achieved.
The disorder is often associated with schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
An example of circumstantial speech is that when asked about the age of a person's mother at death, the speaker responds by talking at length about accidents and how too many people die in accidents, then eventually says what the mother's age was at death.
- Problem-Based Psychiatry by Ben Green 2009 ISBN 1-84619-042-8 page 15
- "Merck Source Library". Dorland's Medical Dictionary found on Merck Source's website. 2002–2009. Retrieved June 1, 2010.[dead link]
- Crash Course: Psychiatry by Julius Bourke, Matthew Castle, Alasdair D. Cameron 2008 ISBN 0-7234-3476-X page 255
- "A definition of circumstantiality". Retrieved December 21, 2016.
- Svobada, William (April 5, 2004). Childhood Epilepsy: Language, Learning And Behavioural Complications. Cambridge University Press. p. 672. ISBN 0-521-82338-2.