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bright-line (bryt-lyn) noun, adjective

An unambiguous criterion on some issue.

For example, what gift would be considered acceptable to an office-holder versus what would amount to bribery? In this hypothetical case, the bright-line might be the value of the gift, say $20 or below is legal but above that one must return it.

[Apparently from spectrography. A bright-line spectrum has distinct bright lines as contrasted with a continuous spectrum which has a continuous band of frequencies.]

"If the court establishes a bright-line rule barring police from forcing such disclosures, it will highlight a new focus by the justices on individual liberty." Warren Richey; If Police Ask Who You Are, Do You Have to Say?; The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts); Mar 22, 2004.

"There is no bright line, in Starr's account, between 'news' (good) and 'entertainment' (bad)." Nicholas Lemann; Spheres of Influence; New Yorker; Apr 12, 2004.

This week's theme: words from law.


One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time. -Carl Sagan, astronomer and writer (1934-1996)

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