• orthogonal •
or-tha-gê-nêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. At right angles, perpendicular (to). 2. Totally irrelevant, not at all germane to some point under discussion. 3. Statistically unrelated or independent.
Notes: Today's word comes from Greek via Latin and hence has all the derivational accoutrements of classical words. The noun is orthogonality and you can make a verb, orthogonalize "to place at right angles" out of it. The adverb has the usual suffix: orthogonally.
In Play: Today's word is useful in discussions of both practical and philosophical matters. Practically, we may say, "The trunk of a capital 'T' is orthogonal to its cross bar." To stretch that sense a wee bit, we might comment, "I wouldn't say that she drank too much last night but Wanda Round left the party somewhat less than orthogonal." On a more philosophical note: "Jack Uzzi raises so many orthogonal issues in staff meetings, it seems he is totally solipsistic."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Greek orthogonios "at right angles" based on orthos "right, correct" + gonia "angle". The original root came into Greek as both gonia and gona "knee", so apparently originally meant "knee" and "angle", two meanings obviously related. The same root came up in Latin genu "knee", which underlies genuflect "bow", based on a combination meaning "knee-bending". In English we have the very predictable knee and kneel from the same PIE root. Orthos "right" (in both senses) appears in many English words, such as orthography "correct spelling" and orthodoxy "correct belief".
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