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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Jan 04, 2007 9:18 pm

• orient •

Pronunciation: or-ee-yent • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. [Intransitive] To situate facing the east. 2. [Transitive] To focus on or situate facing a specific object. 3. [Transitive] To adjust in the right direction.

Notes: The noun orient and its adjective oriental are considered impolite now in the US so we will focus on the verb. Today's Good Word has a sister, orientate, which many feel is also improper, a misguided back-derivation from orientation, the noun of orient. Although orientate clearly was back-derived, it has been with us on both sides of the Atlantic since the mid-19th century. A person who orients something is an orientator while an orienteer is someone who participates in the sport of orienteering, finding your way through rough terrain with the help of a map and compass.

In Play: The first sense of today's word is most often used in reference to religious objects like churches and coffins: "The parson was dismayed to discover that some of the coffins in the cemetery were not oriented." However, the second and third senses are by far the more common: "The new Wal-Mart store was oriented toward the east." Orient may simply refer to general alignment: "The new president is just trying to orient himself during his first month in office."

Word History: Today's Good Word was copied from Latin oriens, orient- "rising, east", the present participle of oriri "to arise, be born". The same original root gave us early in English and, possibly, are, an odd form of to be. In fact, it is not a stretch to suppose that the R switched places with the vowel (metathesis) before the same stem went on to become raise and rise with an ancient suffix -s found in other words. (We are glad that Kyle McDonald is oriented toward alphaDictionary and rose to the occasion of suggesting today's Good Word.)
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Postby Perry » Fri Jan 05, 2007 10:58 am

If a building's feng shui isn't properly oriented occidents will happen.
"Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening all at once. Lately it hasn't been working."

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Postby Don » Fri Jan 05, 2007 2:46 pm

The story I've heard is that the ancients composed their maps so that East was located at the top (whereas we have adopted the convention of putting North at the top). To use such a map, one would need to "orient" it -- i.e., turn the map so that the East was at the top and then, holding the map, face toward the East. If this story is true, it would link the two meanings of this word somewhat more clearly than did Dr. Goodword's account.

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Postby Stargzer » Sun Jan 07, 2007 5:03 pm

I learned how to orient a map and use a compass in Boy Scouts, but we have the Norwegians and the Swedes to thank for the sport of Orienteering.

I went to two Orienteering events back when my wife was a Girl Scout leader. There are several levels of courses to run, from rank beginner to expert. Here's a couple of links for those who are interested:




Wikipedia article (While the article calls it a running sport, that's only if you're interested in "winning" against other opponents, especailly at the upper levels. If you aren't all that concerned with the time you can have a nice walk in the woods while sharpening your navigation skills.)

I remember reading that during the Cold War, only Soviet officers were trained in map skills; they were afraid the grunts might use their map skill do defect.

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