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What Does "Beside the Point" Mean?

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  • Written By: M.J. Casey
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2014
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The phrase beside the point refers to something that's irrelevant to the main topic. It can be used in a positive way to steer a discussion toward a more pertinent direction. In a more aggressive setting, the phrase may be applied to a person to make him or his beliefs appear insubstantial or unimportant.

This phrase can serve as a form of comparison between two items, topics, and arguments. One is the subject of the comparison; the second is the item that is similar but not as relevant as the first. The characteristic being compared is relevance.

Michael Caine is quoted as saying, "I'll always be there because I'm a skilled professional actor. Whether or not I've any talent is beside the point." His statement illustrates a sophisticated use of this figure of speech. Here the comparison is between the relevance of talent to his success compared to the relevance of discipline and work ethic.

To be beside the point, the item must just miss the subject. As a successful actor, it would seem obvious that Caine must have acting talent. Yet, Caine argues that his continued acting work is due not to talent but to discipline and training. The proposition that he has talent is not under question. Talent is seen as irrelevant when compared to his work ethic.

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An incorrect use of the subtle meaning of the idiom, as Caine employed it, would be to comment on something that was completely irrelevant. An example of this is given in the context of discussing the merits of broccoli: The calories burned while bicycling are surprisingly low is beside the point. In this case, the calories burned while bicycling are off-topic. The idiom implies a close degree of similarity that this example does not illustrate.

When one person is debating another, to note that the other person’s argument is beside the point is often taken as a negative. The statement may be quite true and even not offensive when expressed differently. In general, the remark "Let’s get back on track" is often construed more positively than "Your argument is beside the point."

Another variation of this phrase is to note that some position taken by the speaker is pointless. To be on point, on the other hand, is to be pertinent. A point well taken is a substantiated claim.

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bear78
Post 5

Despite applying to many jobs, I'm not getting calls from employers for interviews. The fact that I don't have much experience is beside the point!

fBoyle
Post 4

@serenesurface-- Actually, based on what the article is saying, you're not using this phrase correctly. It's not correct to say "that's beside the point" about a topic that's completely unrelated to what the person was talking about. The two topics need to be similar and related in order for this phrase to make sense.

So I think that this phrase doesn't just bring a discussion back on topic, it also emphasizes what the main argument is. To say that something is beside the point means that, that idea is not central to the main argument that this person is making. It doesn't mean that the idea has nothing to do with it, it's just not important.

serenesurface
Post 3

There are some people, who when faced with a topic or discussion they don't like, will quickly try to change the subject. But there are times when that conversation needs to occur. It's frustrating to try to get back to discussing that important issue when the person keeps trying to avoid the subject and talk about other things. I tend to use the phrase "beside the point" often when I'm speaking to such individuals. I use it because I want to get back to the main topic and I also want the person to know that I realize what they're trying to do.

Phaedrus
Post 2

Sometimes I see the idiom "beside the point" as really saying "alongside the point". It's not that the idea is invalid, but it just doesn't move the main discussion forward. It threatens to send the brainstorming process in a less useful direction. I've been in discussions with co-workers that got sidetracked on things like packaging or promotion. All of those elements are important in their own way, but they are all beside the point. We have to have a working product first.

Inaventu
Post 1

I've heard this expression as "besides the point" or "beside the point". I don't really see much of a difference between the two, but that's beside the point.

I think there are plenty of times during a company meeting where valid ideas or concerns will be raised, but they don't really address the problem at hand. We may not have enough money in the budget to try anything new this year, but that's beside the point. The main issue is coming up with new ideas that would work better if we did have the money to implement them.

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