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Circumstantial speech

Circumstantial speech (also referred to as circumstantiality) is the result of a non-linear thought pattern and occurs when the focus of a conversation drifts, but often comes back to the point.[1] In circumstantiality, unnecessary details and irrelevant remarks cause a delay in getting to the point.[2] If someone exhibits circumstantial speech during a conversation, they will often "talk the long way around" to their point, which can be seen in contrast to linear speech, which is direct, succinct, and to the point.

Circumstantial speech is more direct than tangential speech in which the speaker wanders and drifts and usually never returns to the original topic, and is far less severe than logorrhea.[3] 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, 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).[4] 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.[2]


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.[1]

Similarly, a patient afflicted with this condition, for example, when asked about a certain recipe, could give minute details about going to the grocery store, the shopping experience, people there, and so on.

On the American television detective series Columbo, the title character often spoke circumstantially when interviewing the murder suspect, often asking about objects or possessions belonging to the suspect which were not germane to the investigation.


Treatment often involves the use of behavioral modification and anticonvulsants, antidepressants and anxiolytics.[5]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Problem-Based Psychiatry by Ben Green 2009 ISBN 1-84619-042-8 page 15
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Merck Source Library". Dorland's Medical Dictionary found on Merck Source's website. 2002–2009. Retrieved June 1, 2010. [dead link]
  3. Crash Course: Psychiatry by Julius Bourke, Matthew Castle, Alasdair D. Cameron 2008 ISBN 0-7234-3476-X page 255
  4. "A definition of circumstantiality". Retrieved November 6, 2009. 
  5. Svobada, William (April 5, 2004). Childhood Epilepsy: Language, Learning And Behavioural Complications. Cambridge University Press. p. 672. ISBN 0-521-82338-2.