At cross purposes

At cross purposes is a phrase that many find confusing. We will examine the meaning of the expression at cross purposes, where the term came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

At cross purposes describes two or more people who are working against each other, often without knowing it. If two people word at cross purposes, their goals are different and these goals may be in conflict or they may be mutually exclusive. Working at cross purposes usually happens when there is a misunderstanding, though it may happen because of a disagreement. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the spelling as at cross purposes, though sometimes the expression is seen with a hyphen, as in at cross-purposes. The term came into use in the latter seventeenth century, and may have been derived from a parlor game by the same name, which involved separating questions from their correct answers on slips of paper, and distributing them around the room. The object was to make the most amusing and incorrect match between question and answer.


Pilot rejected reports that the camps of ex-CM Ashok Gehlot and former Union minister CP Joshi were, at times, working at cross purposes and claimed there was no infighting in the state unit. (The New Indian Express)

Numerous public and semi-public bodies in Massachusetts each manage a slice of land and/or transportation infrastructure, operating at cross-purposes instead of strategically. (The Commonwealth Magazine)

Sometimes these products can be used in concert, but sometimes you have to choose one approach or the other, as using both will put you at cross-purposes.  (The Business Insider)

Drug companies profit from illness, while public health is important to economic growth — so investors can easily end up at cross purposes. (The Financial Times)


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