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UD (over breakfast): Caroline from across the street asked me the names of various plants in our new garden, and I had to explain that I mainly relied on the landscaper and didn’t know what was there on a … granular … level…. GRANULAR! I think this is the first time I found granular while conversing! It just came out. GRANULAR!!

MR UD: Very nice.

UD: It’s like orthogonal. (Snobby Brit accent:) That matter is orthogonal to the point in question… ORTHOGONAL… Wait. Wasn’t there some hilarious Supreme Court back and forth about orthogonal?

MR UD: ?????

UD (Checks cell phone.) Here it is! (Reads.)

MR. FRIEDMAN: 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? I 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.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Or the dissent.
(Laughter.)

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8 Responses to “Snapshots from Home”

  1. Polish Peter Says:

    I said “orthogonal” once in conversation, and Mrs. Polish Peter nearly divorced me. Never again.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Polish Peter: If the Monty Python lads were still in business, you figure they’d feature orthogonal in a sketch. In one of their pretentious “the arts” interviews maybe…

  3. Polish Peter Says:

    “Orthogonal” should score extra points in Pedantry Scrabble because it goes back to a Greek root rather than just to Latin.

  4. Ravi Narasimhan Says:

    The term is commonly used in science and engineering. We usually learn its original mathematical context in linear algebra courses. It can also be shaded to mean “useful but cross to present purposes.” Surprised by the surprise.

  5. Polish Peter Says:

    Indeed, I picked it up from my engineering colleagues, but they were already employing it outside its traditional mathematical usage.

  6. Ravi Narasimhan Says:

    Yes, that’s what I had intended to convey. Have heard/used the alternate context for 35+ years.

  7. JKW Says:

    I first encountered said adjective in a work of literature, a novella by John Crowley, where it’s used literally, in a mathematical sense. Since then I have impressed high school students who are in advanced math classes as well as my English courses; they probably think it’s remarkable that I know any mathematical terms at all.

  8. Ravi Narasimhan Says:

    Ask ’em how many sides in an orthogon.

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