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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Orthogonal

One of the words that frequently comes up in boardgaming is “orthogonal”.  It means (in this context) “at right angles”.  In gaming it’s usually used in movement or placement situations to indicate “not diagonal”.  For example, a player may move his piece orthogonally (left, right, up or down) but not diagonally.  Or, “you can’t attack me because my ship isn’t orthogonal to yours.”

Over the years, I’ve found that most people don’t know the word when they first hear it -- which is not surprising in the least.  But if they do happen to feel bad about that, maybe this will cheer them up.

From the Supreme Court case, Briscoe, et al., v. Virginia, argued on January 11, 2010.  Mr. Friedman is Richard Friedman of the University of Michigan Law School, a former professor of mine:

 

MR. FRIEDMAN: I think -- I think that there probably has to be a witness who has observed the procedures. If I am -- and that's an issue that will be presented to the Court, we can be pretty certain. I think that issue is entirely orthogonal to the issue here because the Commonwealth is acknowledging –

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I'm sorry. Entirely what?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal.  Right angle.  Unrelated.  Irrelevant.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Oh.

JUSTICE SCALIA: What was that adjective? liked that.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Orthogonal.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Right, right.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Orthogonal, ooh.

(Laughter.)

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I knew this case presented us a problem.

(Laughter.)

MR. FRIEDMAN: I should have -- I probably should have said –

JUSTICE SCALIA: I think we should use that in the opinion.

(Laughter.)

MR. FRIEDMAN: I thought -- I thought I had seen it before.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Or the dissent.

 

Then again, the fact that your vocabulary is consistent with Roberts and Scalia may not be something you’d like to claim.

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