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Found in the arguments for Briscoe v. Virginia:

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.


JUSTICE SCALIA: What was that adjective? I like that.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal.


MR. FRIEDMAN: Right, right.



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


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

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


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



MR. FRIEDMAN: That’s a bit of -- a bit of professorship creeping in, I suppose.

But the Commonwealth is acknowledging that they have to bring in witnesses if...

Sometimes I forget, coming from a math/technical background, that the word "orthogonal" isn't something most people use on a regular basis.  So, for people who, like two of our Supreme Court justices, have never encountered this word before, here's a definition for this incredibly spiffy word:

  • (adj) extraneous, immaterial, impertinent, orthogonal (not pertinent to the matter under consideration) "an issue extraneous to the debate"; "the price was immaterial"; "mentioned several impertinent facts before finally coming to the point"
  • (adj) orthogonal (statistically unrelated)
  • (adj) orthogonal, rectangular (having a set of mutually perpendicular axes; meeting at right angles) "wind and sea may displace the ship's center of gravity along three orthogonal axes"; "a rectangular Cartesian coordinate system"

Edit: After posting this, I was flipping through my dead-tree edition of The Jargon File, and I found that it's also defined there:

orthogonal: adj.

[from mathematics] Mutually independent; well separated; sometimes, irrelevant to. Used in a generalization of its mathematical meaning to describe sets of primitives or capabilities that, like a vector basis in geometry, span the entire ‘capability space’ of the system and are in some sense non-overlapping or mutually independent. For example, in architectures such as the PDP-11 or VAX where all or nearly all registers can be used interchangeably in any role with respect to any instruction, the register set is said to be orthogonal. Or, in logic, the set of operators not and or is orthogonal, but the set nandor, and not is not (because any one of these can be expressed in terms of the others). Also used in comments on human discourse: “This may be orthogonal to the discussion, but...”


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 6th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
Ah yes, I remember Zed laughing about that last month (he reads the Supreme Court transcripts daily, what can I say) -- quite enjoyable!
Feb. 6th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
Re: :)
Why is it that I want to hear this exchange read by Nina Totenberg?
Feb. 6th, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)
I am so using this word in my next report.

I have to read through transcripts from the 9th Circuit on a regular basis, and have yet to find a gem like this. But it is hilarious to hear them come down on lawyers...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )