Talking past each other

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Talking past each other is an English phrase describing the situation where two or more people talk about different subjects, while believing that they are talking about the same thing.[1]


The idiomatic expression is an allusion to the interaction between Thrasymachus and Socrates over the question of "justice" in Plato's Republic I. In their dialogue, neither man addressed any of the issues raised by the other and two different concepts which need not have been disputed are somehow confused.[2]

In common use[edit]

In fictional dialogue, when characters "talk past each other ... [they are said to] expose an unbridgeable gulf between their respective perceptions and intentions. The result is an exchange, but never an interchange, of words in fragmented and cramped utterances ..."[3]

The phrase is used in widely varying contexts. For example, in 1917, Albert Einstein and David Hilbert had dawn-to-dusk discussions of physics; and they continued their debate in writing, although Felix Klein records that they "talked past each other, as happens not infrequently between simultaneously producing mathematicians."[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The English phrase is like the Chinese idiomatic expression "chicken talking to a duck" (鸡同鸭讲 or 雞同鴨講).
  2. ^ Gallie, Walter Bryce, "Essentially Contested Concepts," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol. 56, (1956), p. 168.
  3. ^ Fleisser, Marieluise (author), Horton, David (ed.), Pioniere in Ingolstadt, p. 25, at Google Books
  4. ^ Mehra, Jagdish. (1974). Einstein, Hilbert, and the Theory of Gravitation. p. 84.


  • Anderson, Philip Warren. "Twenty years of talking past each other: The theory of high Tc," Physica C: Superconductivity and its Applications, v. 460–462, iss. 0, p. 3-6.
  • Fleisser, Marieluise (1992). Pioniere in Ingolstadt, edited by David Horton, Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719034671; ISBN 9780719034688; OCLC 24376759
  • Gutting, Gary. (1980). Paradigms and Revolutions: Appraisals and Applications of Thomas Kuhn's Philosophy of Science. South Bend, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. OCLC 163461098